Living With Self-Harm Scars

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:
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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.

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25 thoughts on “Living With Self-Harm Scars

    • I wish there was something I could say to decrease the chances of you continuing and worsening with the self-harm, because even though I have only cut once in the last 6 months, I am only now feeling the depth of the consequences. I know however that nothing could have stopped me when I was in such distress during the times I hurt myself the most, and that in ways the cutting kept me alive in my darkest times. I am so sorry you are having such a hard time, please feel free to reach out to me if you wish.

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  1. I look at my scars and I berate myself for mutilating myself so badly. I have a wedding to go to next month, and as bridesmaid people are going to be looking at my arms. My own wedding is in November. The effect of the make-up on your scars is incredible though – can I ask what it is and how I can look at getting it for myself?

    I wish we could just bear our skin and not face any stigma – I feel like that’s a dream that’s never going to come true.

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    • I am so sorry. I too experience a whole host of self berating thoughts and shitty feelings, but I’m really trying to let go of the judgements because ultimately they only make the situation and my suffering worse. If you can’t give yourself compassion right now, well…. I’ll send you a virtual hug and lots of compassionate vibes from me ❤

      Yes of course you can ask. Are you based in the UK first of all? The brand name is Dermacolor Kryolan for the main cover up and also setting powder. Luckily I get them on prescription because I went through my doctor and the charity, thank goodness!

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  2. I am sorry to hear and see the self-harm scars. As a teenager I tried it one time. I don’t know why my mind told me to do this. I took a sharp razor blade and ran it across my arm. I didn’t feel the pain. It was a strange feeling, but I never did it again. I didn’t realize at that point that people do it all the time. I was in the hospital a few years ago and a large majority of the patients were self harmers who had to have their wounds cleaned and redressed every day. My self-harm was addressed in other ways. Was surprised to find out these things had real names. I just couldn’t help myself.

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    • Yes self-harm can actually extend to so many things, not just cutting, burning, picking etc, but also things like eating disorders, alcohol and drug abuse, acts of self neglect or self-sabotage, risk taking, and other impulsive or self-damaging behaviours – these are all self-harming in one way or another.

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      • I pick off scabs til they bleed. I rip the skin off my fingers and palms. I don’t eat right and am considered mal-nourished. Probably a few more that I am just used to.

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      • I totally relate to the picking and it’s actually a really (mentally) painful behaviour. I hope these are areas you can work on/ receive help for, so that you can delve deeper and work out what’s going on for you emotionally, and process it.

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  3. If you’re still looking for lightweight clothes for some situations, have you thought about going to specialist shops for people with cultural needs? I know strict orthodox Jewish and Muslim women cover their arms, you might be able to find some good stuff in the East End?

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  4. You are amazing! I am so happy to hear that the medical makeup has given you some freedom back!

    I still mostly wear pants, leggings or tights to cover my legs. I have used bio oil in the past to reduce the appearance of scars but it is very time consuming. I would prefer to just not care that scars are there. Like you, I work with children and I am concerned about questions from parents and them thinking I’m not able to do my job for discriminatory reasons.

    Thank you so much for this post!!!

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  5. Hi , along with bpd depression and anxiety I also have body dysmorphic disorder , ever since I was 5 I have viewed myself in a distorted way in my mind , my mother was obsessed with self image and being skinny , and she made me feel I was fat all my life when I wasn’t. I hate telling people about my bdd in fear that they will think I’m shallow , it’s so hard and stressfull to look immaculate all the time I don’t want to be like this, and it’s impossible to keep up when the depression hits I start to loathe myself more than ever , cutting myself actually causes more distress to me in long run after I self half I feel regret shame and more anxiety , I keep checking the scar to see if it’s faded , it makes me feel literally sick I feel so ashamed to go out if anyone sees them they’ll always judge what they don’t understand , please could you give me some more imformation about this charity that helps with the makeup , I just want to be confident I keep thinking about my life as some sad movie I can see myself stuck forever in this world in my head were I don’t feel thing it’s so scary I don’t know who I am

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    • I’m so sorry to hear about your struggles and it comes across very rawly through your writing – thank you for sharing. It sounds absolutely suffocating, and hugely isolating on top. I hope you have some support, things sound excruciating.
      I do relate hugely to much of what you’ve shared. I also can’t show my scars in most public (and also many private) situations and it can be debilitating. The shame that comes with it is extortionate.
      I think it would be easier to pass on the details of the charity via email, if that’s okay with you. I am in the UK, so am hoping you are too so that you can access their services. Please email me at borderlinebabble@outlook.com. Take care.

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  6. Im sorry that you have struggled so much, I have a lot of raised red keliod scars too, and face the same struggles, wearing long sleeves to work as a community care worker and as a nanny, because it just doesn’t feel appropriate to show the extensive scars.
    I am looking into getting skin grafts next year, on my lower arms so then at least i can wear 3/4 sleeves. I recently went on a cruise and wore a bikini, showing off my arms and legs and a few kids stared and that was it.

    I only got asked during the 10 day trip twice. Both times was on the Islands by local tour guides, one asked me “accident?” which i said yes to, and another man with more english asked me “was it a sacrifice?” to which i explained i did it to myself when i was very very sad, and they were both okay with this.

    I find it much easier to be around strangers that family. Im yet to let any of my family in NZ see my scars, so i understand.

    Im going to be wearing long sleeves through this Austrlian summer of 40degree days, i hope you managed okay in the heat xxx

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    • Thank you so much for sharing this with me, I really appreciate knowing that others understand. In a way I am lucky because I don’t get keloids, after some time my scars flatten, in fact some of them are more like indents than risen! I am sorry you have struggled so much also and that these are the consequences, it feels so unfair that the things we have done to essentially save ourselves in the past then come back to bite us in the butt and make life so much harder.
      I try to practice a lot of acceptance around it but it’s so hard. Luckily it’s cold most of the year here, but I’m about to go to Florida with my family and I won’t be able to swim or anything. I have also thought about grafts for one of my arms, hmmmm…. It’s so hard with nannying as well, chasing after the kids all day! I told my mum I’m never nannying again (did last summer) because it was like torture in the hear in long sleeves. So I feel you. And I’m so sorry! 😦
      I hope that one day we can both feel able enough to be at peace with our scars. If you have the surgery, let me know how it goes and best of luck to you with everything. Keep up the brave work. We can do this ❤ xxx
      Ps. I find the acceptance of the people on the island touching. I wish all of society was more like that!

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  7. Hi I posted a message on this page as anonymous the post before jadealice, I tried to email you but I kept getting an email saying it had failed , is it still the same? In my earlier post I was so busy talking about myself I didn’t thank you for sharing your struggles with so many of us that can relate. Ive known I had bpd for some years now but I’m only just waiting for my diagnostic appointment in Jan now, I really do feel like I’ve lost my identity which is one of the most distressing parts for me, just that feeling I get when I think about how much time of my life I’ve wasted being unhappy and mentally torturing myself instead of making memories esp when I’m so young, I feel so much painful regret , seing the scars triggers emotions back from the time when I last harmed, I sometimes cover it with a bandage so I can’t see them because I get too hot indoors now since I’ve put on weight 😦 I hate having to mention I feel cold in a social setting so people don’t think it’s weird I havnt taken my jacket off when really I’m like boiling and getting hot flushes, some people that have recovered wear their scars proudly but to me they’ll just be a constant reminder of how weak I once was and its crazy because I’m not weak am I , I’m just I’ll but how dare they call it a personality disorder, or even a disorder, it is a diagnosis full of stigma , misconceptions , not enough awareness , misdiagnosed people undiagnosed ones aswell that aren’t taken seriously because even though still a mental illness main symptoms are behavioural ones more than other ones commonly asssociated with mental illness leading people around you to think you are simple just ‘impossible’ ‘. No one can understand you because you don’t even understand yourself , Borderline between psychosis and neurosis … What the hell is that supposed to mean anyway? These days I’m just getting worse I feel I just wasn’t made for this world 😦 if I do not get treatment I know that this feeling of emptiness will increase as I get older and unhappier as the self hatred grows and I push everyone close to me far far away I mean it’s only a matter of time it’s already becoming intolerable and overwhelming , If you wouldn’t mind emailing me at sosaddique@gmail.com I would like to know more about your personal story , because this has become my life now the illness is all I know all I am , theres such limited imformation about this, are you at recovery stage right now ? If you are slowly getting there I’m so glad for you because the way I am now I can’t see it getting better , and I know how painful it is and how much it hurts inside that you can feel it physically , we have a unique way of feeling things others just can’t,

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    • My email should still be working – it’s borderlinebabble@outlook.com
      I just tried it from my other account, and it’s definitely working! Are you deffo typing it okay?

      Thanks so much for sharing all of that with me. And sure, I would be happy to speak to you more over email. I am pretty hectic and currently on holiday with family but am always happy to help when I can find some time.

      I would say that yes, I am in recovery. I still have ups and downs and I definitely still have BPD; I wouldn’t say I am recovered in any way whatsoever, life is still pretty fucking painful. I still feel to the extent I always have done. I just have better coping mechanisms, support and balance in my life – something I was never able to achieve before. Also my behaviours (self harm, substance abuse, ED behaviours, etc) have massively gone down. But anyway in my opinion the real defining features of BPD are not mainly the behaviours, but instead the way we think and feel and the way we are in relation to the world, others and ourselves.

      I understand that you feel the label is shitty – it does kinda suck, and I agree there is a huge amount of stigma and misunderstanding. At the same time for me the diagnosis was a huge relief because I finally had something that explained all the fucked up shit I had done in my life, why I was the way I was and that I wasn’t alone in it. I also have been lucky in that I have received amazing support and so possibly not experienced the specific BPD stigma to the same extent others have.

      I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought that it could never get better and that I would be trapped in the BPD misery hell for ever. I can’t say what’s going to happen to you or others but I can honestly say that things have gotten better for me. I am not better but I am so much better than I was at my worst and honestly I never thought I would be where I am now – I would have put higher bets on my being dead by this time in my life. But I’m not, I’m still kicking and I don’t wish I was dead every second of the day.

      I certainly have a unique way of feeling things others can’t and totally relate to you on that one.
      I am so sorry you are struggling so much right now. Sending lots of hugs.

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