“People who make throw away comments about cutting oneself ‘like an emo’ make me want to yell at them.”

**trigger warning for self harm, depression***

“Don’t cry and cut yourself.”

“Cut yourself like some emo/goth.”

“I hated it so much it made me want to slit my wrists.”

Half remembered, throw away comments that I hear on the regular.

I hear a variation on them I would say probably once a week, sometimes from friends, or colleagues, often strangers.
I work in a bar, it’s very easy to overhear conversations.

I have many scars, of various shapes and sizes on the top half of my right arm.
I cut myself there because I was still in secondary school when I did it, and if I did it there they were easy to hide with my school polo shirts.
I’m left handed, and it just seemed natural to hold the blade with my left hand.
I also cut my wrists a little, but it proved hard to hide them with bracelets.
I cut the inside of my thighs a couple of times too, but that was difficult to hide in the communal changing rooms.
An arm was much easier to make sure I had turned to the wall.

What I didn’t know at the time but have since been told by my doctor is that I over-produce scar tissue.
Even if I were to go for laser removal surgery, I would still have scars.

It is harder to write about this than I thought it would be.
It has been around 8 years since I self harmed, but it’s still difficult to remind myself of how I felt when I did.

People who make throw away comments about cutting oneself “like an emo.” make me want to yell at them.

People who ask me about the scars on my arm, which I do not make a lot of effort to hide because I shouldn’t have to, generally also piss me off.

I do not mind people that I know well, asking me respectfully, in private, about the scars.

I don’t really understand the need, because it’s obvious what they’re from. You can fairly safely assume that the answer to your questions will be: “I have depression, I used to self harm.”
But fine, if you feel some need to have me explain, whatever, I can do that.

But I would like to caution you against asking people.
If they want to talk about it, they will.

If not, please feel free to draw the intelligent conclusion that it’s none of your damned business; silently salute them for being able to brave the stares that not hiding your scars foster.

The whispered comments behind hands, and the brazen (usually drunk) assholes who ask you about the darkest period of your life and the constant reminder that you are stuck with on your body in the form of scars which represent a pain so all-consuming that you did not know how to process it.

These assholes will ask me casually.
As if they are entitled to ask me.
It often happens when I am on a night out, being brave, not hiding them, not hiding something that is inexorably a part of me, trying to have a good time.

Smooth.
Thanks stud.

Fortunately these outrageous dickheads are fairly few and far between, and fortunately for them, I have a good handle on my temper, and usually I’m able to make them leave me the fuck alone with a few words and a look.

I am strong, I am confident, a lot of people are not.

I’m stuck with these scars, there’s nothing I can do about that.

What I can do though is ask this of you; I would ask you to take a second to think the next time your curiosity tries to get the better of you, to think about what the scars on someone else’s body mean to them, and whether you have any right to ask about them.

Advertisements

I am a trauma survivor

**TW: child abuse, sexual abuse/rape, self harm, suicide, mental health issues -depression, anxiety, violence, sex**

My relationship with my body is just that – a relationship. It’s a negotiation between what I can do and what my body can do. Sometimes my body is like my best friend, and it looks out for me and protects me. At other times, it feels more like my body and me are an old married couple that bicker and throw tantrums and sulk at each other for not being good enough. I am a trauma survivor. I dealt with pretty bad emotional abuse for most of my childhood and adolescence. Even after managing to escape the people who inflicted that abuse on me, I perpetuated these abusive behaviours in my behaviour and my interactions with people. I am living with the consequences of this trauma now, and part of where I carry these memories is in my body.

I have depression, which comes and goes but often brings fatigue with it. Fatigue is the hardest to deal with of all my problems. It makes walking from my bedroom to my kitchen look impossible. It means that I can’t carry a light bag because my arms and back end up actually painful. It means I might want to go out and see my friends, but I’m worried that I won’t be able to walk all the way there and all the way back. Fatigue means my muscles often hurt and simple tasks like walking can be painful. I am lucky enough that I have enough money now that if the worst comes to the worst, I can get a taxi home from the bus station – but it wasn’t always like that, and I’ve learnt through necessity that my body can do things it is 100% sure it can’t do, if there’s no other option.

I have anxiety, most of which is a direct result of emotional abuse destroying my confidence, and I feel that in my body as well. Overwhelming anxiety starts by stealing all the feeling from my legs, so that they’re numb and shaky and heavy. My tummy starts going round and round like the alarm light on a police car. Low level anxiety, which is with me most of the time, can manifest itself by blotting out my bodily functions. I won’t get hungry or need to go to the bathroom if i’m in a situation that is potentially stressful (like staying at a new friend’s home) – this is my body protecting me from the anxiety these activities can trigger. I might not even notice that I’m panicking, until I’ve realised that I haven’t eaten anything all day and still don’t feel hungry.

Incidentally, my fatigue is actually pretty good for my anxiety because sometimes I just have to sit by the side of the road for half an hour – and necessity makes it easier not to care that people are staring at me. If I’m too exhausted to have many emotions, reason kicks in and reminds me that it really doesn’t matter what random people on the street think about me.

Depression and anxiety are the mental consequences of my experiences. There are physical consequence as well. My abusers taught me that nothing I had was really mine, including my body. While I was living with them, there was nowhere that couldn’t be violated without warning. No privacy and no safety, even within my own body.

This came out into my relationships with other people as well as in how I dealt with and felt about myself. I started having sex when I was 14, and looking back I can recognise almost all my adolescent sexual experiences as non-consensual and abusive. Now, I’m trying to work through all of the sexual abuse I’ve dealt with and exploring ways to actually want and enjoy having sex. Being present during sex is a challenge because I learnt to have sex by dissociating and zoning out. My body automatically tries to shut that whole area down because I’ve learn that it’s wrong and that it hurts and that the best way to survive it is just to shut it out and let it happen. But I don’t want to feel that way anymore, and I’m making efforts towards allowing my body to feel sexual and for that to be a positive thing. Trying to actually be in my body during sex means that I’m more likely to have anxiety and find it difficult not to panic, but I’ll take that because it means I’m making progress. Allowing myself to experience sexual attraction is also hard because that’s one of the things my body decides it’s not worth experiencing – but my brain is pretty sure that it is, now that I’m only sleeping with people who only want fully-consensual, mutually enjoyable sex.

My body is intrinsically wrapped up in all of my trauma issues; it is also a key part of my healing. The worst of my abuse was over by the time I was about 14, and I started recovering by forcefully making a claim over myself and the environment around me. I wallpapered my bedroom with pictures cut out of metal and rock magazines. The entire room was black and ugly but it was finally a space that was mine. I dressed my body in corsets and skinny jeans and eyeliner – and when I got abuse about looking ridiculous I felt proud inside because I knew I looked shit hot – I’d chosen this outfit with care! The claim I staked over my body was somewhat violent – partly because the clothes I wore and the music I listened to got me attacked by strangers on more than one occasion, but also because my tendency to self-harm (present since I was a child) became a regular and defined habit. I don’t think self-harm is healthy, but I know that it was positive for me because it was the first time I’d really been able to stake a claim over my own body. Because my abusers at this point were also people who loved and cared about me, I was obligated to keep my scars hidden from them – and they became my first secret, the first thing that was really and truly mine. My body also demonstrated its remarkable capacity for healing by swallowing the scars time and time again – keeping my secret with me.

I moved out of that house as soon as I possibly could. Living away from there for the first time was an eyeopener – until recently, I didn’t even recognise a lot of what happened to me as abuse because it was presented as so normal. My mental health issues are my body reacting to being safe. I am no longer in a crisis situation, and my body is beginning to let some of that in and deal with it. That’s why I’m considerably less able to function on a day-to-day basis than I was when I was a teenager. I’m forgetting some of my coping mechanisms because I no longer need them every day. I used to be superb at hiding my emotions and thoughts (I could have a panic attack without anybody around me noticing) and now I can’t do that – but I’m working to see this as a positive thing because it means I’m surrounded by people who are going to be ok if I have a panic attack. Actually, I’m pretty sure I’m surrounded by people who are going to everything they can to help me if I have a panic attack..

I am still learning that all of the things I learnt as fact when I was growing up are not fact. It’s beginning to sink in, after four years away from home, that I can do whatever I want with my body and my life. I have piercings and tattoos now, and some of my tattoos are ridiculous and anaesthetic and my family Do Not approve and I’m yet to explain them to anyone without getting a sort of disbelieving sneer in response – and my reaction is to shove two fingers up at them and remind them that nobody gets a say but me! Now I can put write a note to myself on my mirror, and know that nobody is going to come in and look at it without my permission. I can leave my diary lying on the floor of my bedroom. Hell, I can leave my diary lying on the floor of my living room because nobody would even dream of opening it! I can walk out of my room with fresh self-harm marks, and the only reaction I will get is people who care about me and want me to explain to them how I want them to help me. I can lie on my bed and kiss someone, and not be required or expected or obligated to have sex with them, and even though I still have difficulty feeling that that is true I know on an intellectual level that it is. I’m just waiting for my body to catch up.

My depression in high school made me want to not live because I couldn’t envision anything remotely worth living for. I expected to get married and have children because that was what I’d been taught inevitable happened, and I would probably have a job – but none of this held any particular emotional or motivational appeal for me. I didn’t have any dreams or hopes because I couldn’t envision anything giving me a positive life experience. I went through phases where I didn’t particularly want to die, but I sure as hell didn’t want to stay alive and I’d fall asleep at night praying I just wouldn’t wake up. But now, I’ve worked out that there are things I want to do – and I mean want with a burning passion that occasionally keeps me awake at night because I’m so excited about doing them. Now, I want to live so badly that even when I’m going through a bad depressed period and beyond experiencing emotion at all, I can remember that those feelings and wants exist and feel sure that I just need to hold on and work through the depression and when I come out the other side, all of the good things and good people in my life will still be there waiting for me.

annonymous 

“My chronic pain will not stop me being happy.”

This piece by Emma Atack, who blogs at The Sun Always Follows Rain, is taken with permission from Pouting in Heels. The original post, with pictures, can be found here.

Hi, I’m Emma.

I might look ‘normal’ on the outside but inside there are titanium rods and screws, repaired disks, muscles that don’t work when they should, muscles which overcompensate and chronic pain.

But do you know what? I wouldn’t change the amazing journey that I’ve been on. So don’t feel sorry for me – it drives me mad when people say ‘poor you’. Instead I hope to inspire.

In 2000 I graduated from the University of Central Lancashire, with a BA (Hons) in Public Relations. I had a couple of jobs before becoming a press officer for a government-funded organisation. During this time I was fit and healthy, went to the gym regularly, and even ran the Great North Run.

2007 was a significant and busy year. I moved house, was promoted to PR Manager and also got married. I’d had a few twinges in my back but thought absolutely nothing of it. Then in the November my back went. And I could not move.

Tests revealed I had the spinal condition Spondylolisthesis, something I had been born with but typically only becomes symptomatic in your twenties. I was 28.

One vertebrae had slipped over another giving me a dent in my back, a prolapsed disk, muscles that were constantly in spasm and leg symptoms. This was never part of my life’s plan.

I was off work for a few months, determined that all would be ok. After I while I returned to work, but struggled to drive, I could not sit for long and was in constant pain so the following August I left the office and never went back.

In 2009 having tried every type of spinal injection, physiotherapy and acupuncture, I had my spine fused. I WOULD make a full recovery.

But I was still in serious pain, still walking with a walking stick and then I had a tear in another disk. Anger and frustration led to depression, which I failed to recognise until everything seemed to go ‘bang’.

I can remember crying solidly for 12 hours and my mother-in-law saying it was time to go to the doctors. Of course as soon as I saw the doctor I started crying who said to me ‘I’m surprised you’ve not been earlier’.

He was right I should have gone earlier – I was very depressed.

Part of the reason I had not wanted to admit this was that my father had taken his own life nine years earlier and I didn’t want to admit to being depressed as some say it can be genetic.

I look back now and think how totally stupid this was, my whole world had fallen apart and I was living in constant pain. Like so many I was being far too hard on myself. I should have asked for help earlier.

In 2011 I had further surgery and was determined to make a full recovery, but like many other people, unfortunately I have gone on to live with chronic pain.

But yet, I’m determined to make the best of things and 2014 IS going to be a great year.

I have finally met a fantastic NHS physio who is treating me as a ‘whole’ person. We are getting to the route of my remaining pain and I am becoming physically stronger every day.

My key phrases throughout my experience have been and remain to be ‘Everything happens for a reason’ and ‘Things always work out in the end’ – I truly believe these words and so should you.

“Because I deserve to love myself, as everyone deserves to love themselves.”

Trigger warning for emotional abuse and disordered eating

I remember clearly when I first became aware of my body and how I felt towards it; I was only 9 years old and I was in a taxi with a friend from school. It was summer so we were wearing those cycling shorts and t-shirts sets everyone used to wear, mine probably had dolphins on, and my friend pointed out that when we sat down my legs got fatter than hers. Of course I know now that when we sit down our legs squish out a little, it’s natural, but at such a young age and never even having looked at my body to criticise it and I was confused as to why she had pointed it out.

Of course, 9 years old is when your body starts to change, you hit puberty and you start to fill out. I was somewhat of an early developer but I was cripplingly shy and I recall being mortified at a party when I was 11 years old and a girl from my class poked me in the chest and shouted “Look at your boobs, look everyone!” and so, of course, everyone did look. My cheeks burnt and I wanted the ground to swallow me up; I was a very private little girl and having this attention drawn to me was horrific.

It’s little incidents like this that affected how I felt about myself; I was embarrassed and wanted to cover up so no-one else would point anything out. I wore baggy jeans and avoided any kind of tight clothes, probably up until I was 16 years of age. I got away with wearing hoodies because I was ‘alternative’ and ‘individual’ so no-one ever questioned it. I didn’t think about it so much at the time and it is only looking back that I am aware of what I was doing. I was ashamed of my body and the less anyone saw it, the less they could judge me.

I have absolutely no idea why I felt this way about my body; my mother fed us a healthy diet, she never talked about her weight or going on a diet and I don’t remember ever even noticing how other people looked. Even growing up as a teenager I didn’t look at celebrities and wish I could be like them. I used to complain a little about my wobbly belly but I never compared myself to anyone else; this was my own demon and not because of how anyone else looked. I can only imagine because I was so shy I was scared to be looked at, I didn’t want any eyes on me and if I had boobs or hips then people would look.

It was only as I grew into my late teens and early twenties that I really began to put pressure on myself to change the way I looked. I have to say I don’t even think it had anything to do with how I looked, it was just the only sense of control I thought I had. From the age of sixteen upwards I have been through a lot bad things, things I wasn’t mature or experienced enough to deal with (what sixteen year old is?) and by concentrating on my looks I could distract myself from everything going on around me.

By concentrating on my looks I wasn’t wearing nice clothes or styling my hair, I was wearing a lot of makeup to cover my face and trying as hard as I could to stay slim. When I was eighteen I got into my first serious relationship. I had a boyfriend for a year before and he wasn’t particularly nice to me, he left me with a lot of self confidence issues. I can’t say my next relationship left me in any better shape, in fact it left me a lot worse. I was with my ex-fiance for five years and during that time my weight fluctuated a lot. I went from 8 stone to over 11.7 stone, which is horrendous for my tiny 5’3” frame. I was so terribly insecure and I used to put myself down a lot. When your partner put themselves down it is your job to build them back up again, to tell them you love them and why; because they are beautiful. It wasn’t like that at all, for me. I remember one Boxing Day night when we were supposed to be going to a party; I was upset because I couldn’t find anything to fit me and I thought I looked like a whale in everything I tried on. I was having a difficult time in University and me and my best friend at the time had just fallen out. I was clearly putting a lot of my issues onto how I felt about my weight and when I couldn’t decide what I looked the least awful in, my partner got angry and told me how disgusting and fat I was, that he didn’t know why he wanted to be with me. He went to the party and left me at home, sobbing in bed. I was so incredibly low and I hated myself so much, I wanted to hide away and never be found.

It was about six months later when I started to work full time in my job that I started to lose weight. It was natural at first because I was doing a lot more physical work; I was no longer sitting in lectures drinking hot chocolate and eating a Galaxy Caramel but I was lugging heavy boxes around and everyday I was rushed off my feet. Once I had lost half a stone I decided that I really wanted to go for it, I was sick of feeling disgusting and crying when I saw a photograph of myself, I wanted to fix it while I was still young and could enjoy being slim. Over the next year I gradually lost weight, from sticking to a high protein diet, lost 3 stone and for a while I was happy with the results.

This changed, however, when my relationship turned sour (or more sour than it already was!) My partner had been caught sneaking around with another girl behind my back a fair few times, I know I should have left right away but I was living with him now and it wasn’t so easy to just drop everything and start a new life. Eventually, though, I didn’t have a choice. I couldn’t spend my life with someone I couldn’t trust, someone who repeatedly hurt me and looking back was emotionally abusive.

The next few years weren’t particularly good, either. I thought I was having a good year last year until that went wrong too. I had another breakdown in a relationship, I was stressed at work and I was diagnosed as being clinically depressed; I had hit rock bottom. I sat at home for a god few months crying on the couch, thinking about how much I despised myself. How it was my fault that everything had gone wrong and I didn’t deserved to be loved, that I was unlovable anyway. In my last relationship I was incredibly insecure, probably down to the fact that my previous one was so abusive. It was another unhealthy relationship and I never felt my needs were being met but being so emotionally insecure and vulnerable I clung on for as long as I could, which I regret massively. I always felt like I was the unattractive one in the relationship, that I was ‘punching about my weight’ and that soon he would realise it, he would see that he could do better. I had stomach problems for a long time and I couldn’t eat without getting crippling indigestion, this was down to stress. Work became increasingly difficult and the stress and depression got worse, which caused me to drop a lot of weight. When I was signed off work I was so terribly hard on myself, I decided that I wasn’t going to put the weight back on because I was ugly enough as it was; I couldn’t be ugly and fat. I genuinely couldn’t eat due to a combination of heart break, anxiety, stress and my terrible depression. I got so ill that all I could do was lie down, even eating became difficult and I couldn’t hold any food down if I even managed to swallow it. I should have been worried but I wasn’t, you know what I thought? I thought ‘maybe I can lose a bit more weight’ which I know now is a horrific idea. I was skin and bones as it was, I just didn’t care. I didn’t feel like my body was good enough; my ex was an avid gym go-er for his work and I simply didn’t have the time, money or energy to get a gym membership. I can’t say it was his fault but I did always think he wanted me to be a bit more active, a bit more like him. He wanted me to get involved in sports and activities when I didn’t want to and I thought this reflected on me and made me look lazy. I felt like he wanted me to be something I’m not, he wanted me to be athletic and as into working out as much as him. There was never a moment in that relationship when I didn’t feel inadequate.

I can’t tell you how I managed to change how I think about myself; I think one day it just clicked. I decided that I didn’t want to hate myself anymore; I wanted to accept my body as it is and show off everything about it that I love.

I got into a new relationship and my boyfriend is more than wonderful. He is so supportive; he tells me how much he loves me and how much he loves my body. Slowly but surely he’s built my confidence back up to the point where I can look at myself and think ‘Yes, my bum is great!’ In the past I have never been comfortable being naked around a boyfriend, I’ve always felt unattractive. Now, however, I’m happy to strut around my bedroom naked, all my jiggly bits on show and wobbling as I go. I have a confidence that I have never in my life had and I love my boyfriend so much for giving that to me. He doesn’t judge me, he loves me. His words when I said I hate my boobs, I just can’t bear them and I don’t think I ever will be able to, he said “I’ll love them for you, then.” I instantly melted, no-one has ever said anything like that to me and the best thing about it was I could tell he meant it. With him I feel like a goddess and that isn’t an exaggeration. I know how attracted to me he is, he tells me regularly and nothing will boost your confidence than knowing the person you are most attracted to feels the same about you.

I try to blog frequently about positive body image and about my journey to loving myself. I would hate to think that one day I will have children and I would pass my body issues onto them so I am determined to figure mine out. I still have the odd morning where I’ll look in the mirror and think “Your belly is poking out far too much.” But it is just a fleeting thought, I follow it up with “But look at those legs… look at your bum.” Because I deserve to love myself, as everyone deserves to love themselves.

It has been a long seventeen years since I was that nine year old in the back of the taxi being introduced to body image and questioning why my thighs were bigger than my friends. I have had so many low points when I have wanted to stay inside so no one could see me but not anymore. Now I can see a light at the end of the tunnel, I can see a future where I fully embrace myself and I champion my flaws. My big hips? My soft, rounded belly? They’re womanly and I am a grown woman, it’s how I’m supposed to look. I gained back around half a stone and shockingly, I feel better than ever. My boobs have gotten bigger and my bum has filled out. My face doesn’t look gaunt anymore, I always hated that, and I don’t bump my hip bones into things constantly. Would you believe that it’s actually painful to lie down when you’re so skinny? My bones used to poke into the mattress, not something I enjoyed.

I’ve been to both ends of the spectrum, overweight and underweight and I didn’t enjoy either one of them. I’m not supposed to be large, nor am I meant to be skinny. I am meant to be me, as I am now. I am a healthy weight, I fit into my clothes and best of all I’m happy; I smile constantly because this feeling of loving myself? It’s great and it’s not something I plan on giving up any time soon!

Author of the blog Back To Me check it out!

“Being tall, thin and toned gave me no solace when I was cowering in the corner of my bedroom hearing things and no drive when I couldn’t get up for sadness.”

My words, unfortunately, take a different line to the inspiring messages I have read from other women here. This blog initiated my first ever exploration of my thoughts on my body and I am uneasy about what I found.

I am an outgoing and vibrant, confident woman and the way I feel about my body matches. I have the fortune of being able to eat what I want. I enjoyed a toffee popcorn doughnut today, recommended by the way, without a moment’s thought. I am frequently (classily) scantily clad and I feel great when I’m naked with men. Deeper than that however, this exploration has lead me to realise is a web of vanity and praise-seeking. Here lies a cautionary tale…

In fact, a dangerously self critical mess of insecurities and neuroticism lurks behind this veneer. I have struggled with depression since I was a teenager and have had two breakdowns including a terrifying period of psychosis. My happiness about my body never waned during these times and it gave me no reassurance. Being tall, thin and toned gave me no solace when I was cowering in the corner of my bedroom hearing things and no drive when I couldn’t get up for sadness. My love for my body comes from laudatory friends, ogling strangers and society’s skinny fetish. I like the looks, the comments and the compliments. It gives me a high and a warm feeling inside.
This is a false and dangerous way to build confidence; like an unsteady Jenga tower. My dependence on what other people think of me is a not a desirable personality trait.

With my friends I joke about my mental instability and they know me as a bright and slightly vain social butterfly. I doubt this post will come as much of a surprise to them. But sometimes I worry that the difference in my mind and my veneer is off putting to people getting to know me.

I’m proud of my confident veneer of course – I built it from a scared and bullied little girl – but my story can be a harsh reminder to others that appearances aren’t everything. On reflecting for this blog I now wonder if I didn’t have this body to fall back on would I have learnt to build confidence from the inside?