This week in London has marked the beginning of true summer, with temperatures increasing up to around 24°C (75°F). Next week the weather warnings indicate a mini heatwave with temperatures soaring as high as 32°C (90°F) and lasting up to a week. Now, whilst for most people in London, this is news of celebration and excitement as the bikinis, sunscreen and paddling pools come out, for someone with self-harm scars all over their body, it is a totally different story.
An extensive portion of my arms and part of my legs are covered in self-harm scars. They vary in colour, size, shape and severity, with some being a lot more noticeable than others. In the past, I have gotten away with wearing sports bandages and using the excuse of a sprain or injury (with most of the damage being on my left arm). However, during the more recent and severe stages of my BPD and self-harming history, more and more areas of my body became subjected to this self-destruction.
I can no longer hide under bandages unless I am prepared to look like an Egyptian mummy. Whilst part of me would love to feel confident and able enough to expose my scars for what they are, right now I am at a stage where I do not believe this to be the most effective choice. Working as a receptionist means constantly interacting with people, and due to the extent of my injuries and the slow healing process, I don’t feel it would be appropriate to have them on show in this role at this time. Also working as a nanny with two young children, the same applies to an even greater extent: it simply would not be appropriate for the girls or their parents to see my scars if I want to continue with my *role* in their family over the next few months. Sadly, public opinion on mental health is limited, and I am unsure as to what my employers’ attitudes towards my history and such physical evidence of it would be. Especially when young children are involved, there are many more cons than there are pros for exposing my scars (and hence a huge part of my life story) within the context. With the risk of honesty and exposure leading me to being misunderstood, judged as a bad influence or dangerous, and potentially even “fired”, I would rather not take the chance!
One day, ultimately, I would like to be able to show my scars for what they are without feeling suffocated by feelings of shame and self-judgement, worrying what those around me are thinking. For the time being however, I have been researching alternative and short-term options.
After considering surgery and ruling it out as an option at least for now, my GP referred me to a charity which specialises in medical make-up. The results of the cover-up can be seen below in these before-and-after photos of one arm:
In certain situations, the medical make-up has felt life-saving. I used it in Copenhagen and felt confident and able to expose my skin – it was the most liberated I had felt in months. I use it when I am with friends so that I feel less socially anxious and self-conscious in public places (my friends themselves don’t mind at all and are 100% supportive). I use it so that I feel able to go on the stuffy London underground without worrying that people are staring at me as much when I take off my cardigan. When I go back to university in October I plan to show my arms/ legs in this made-up state too.
However, whilst the difference is substantial and I am very grateful to the service, I still feel unable to be bare-skinned around the children. Sadly this decision extends to my own younger half-sisters aged 9 and 12 who are unaware of the struggles I have faced over the years (due their age, vulnerability and environmental factors.) This means I do not wear short sleeves with this side of the family, and I cannot go on holiday with them either over the summer months.
Due to the behavioural manifestations of my mental ill health, the truth is that I face a number of consequences and probably will continue to for years to come. It saddens me to have to miss out on so much because of what I have done to myself. I am in a continual state of hyper-vigilance and anxiety in recovery around my scars because of the impulsive acts which occurred during periods of being so unwell. Although part of me loves my scars because they are a part of me and my journey, representative of so much, I cannot avoid the impact they have on me every single day in trying to build a life for myself.
The truth is I am fucking terrified of the next few weeks to come. I don’t do too well with heat anyway as I find it perpetuates my anxiety through the body sensations it induces. And so having to deal with this without being able to take off my sleeves and cool down poses another challenge in itself. I have genuinely been thinking about calling in sick next week because I am so scared I won’t be able to get through the stifling heat whilst nannying, especially if we are outdoors. I have a selection of very light long-sleeved/legged clothing and am trying incredibly hard to practice Radical Acceptance around the situation…
At the same time, I can’t help feel a deep sense of loss and sadness around the potential future ‘normality’ I have been stripped of through the consequences of my illness. Whilst trying to be self-compassionate and kind towards myself, there is no denying the truckload of regret and anger I am experiencing too.