Scars, Stigma and Sadness

Today was sad. I had a beautician appointment with a new clinician. I hate those sorts of appointments, they bring up their own triggers and vulnerabilities every time. But this beautician in particular made things even trickier to manage.

I have scars over various areas of my body, and they were exposed. She made a handful of inappropriate (and highly unprofessional) comments. I will give a few examples of the things she said:

“Why do you do this to yourself? You are so beautiful and young”

“Aren’t you upset with yourself? Look at what you’ve done”

“You should really consider getting them covered with tattoos, then people won’t ask questions”

“But what will your boyfriends/ future husband think!?”  [This assumption is honestly the worst, I can’t stand such heteronormativity – UGH!]

“If you do it again, I’ll tell your Mum and she can sort you out”

“Oh babe, you’re crazy”

She kept on making comments, and we kept on going around in circles. I envisioned having a conversation with my therapist and her coaching me through the interaction. But even though I knew the interpersonal skills I needed to use, I was far from being able to implement them.

I left the appointment feeling a ton of mixed messy feelings. Her comments and attitude made me feel even more uncomfortable (quite literally) in my own skin than I already was. Everything she said highlighted and reiterated to me all the fears and self-judgments I have about myself. There I was, being told in so many words, just how unacceptable I am. It hurt.

The worst thing is, the woman was trying to be nice. She genuinely thought that she was being considerate and helping me with her oh so fucking fabulous words of wisdom. She had no idea about the impact of what she was saying. She had no idea how unaware and insensitive she was being. And I remained stuck, frozen, unable to stand up for myself. As always.

Nevertheless, ironically, all those feelings turned in on myself. Self-disgust. Self-hatred. “YOU ARE SO WEAK – why didn’t you DO something?”. Self-blame. Familiar feelings of inaction and paralysis. A spiral of shame. A desire to hide, to hurt myself, to destroy the unacceptable.

I am trying to remind myself that this is just the opinion of one woman. One woman who doesn’t know the first thing about mental illness, who lives in a world very different to my own, who is irrelevant to my life except for one hour every 6 weeks.

But I guess the truth in all of this is that I am sad. I am sad because my scars are a result of the things I have been through. It doesn’t matter what schtick I get for them, they do not exist for no reason. I am also sad because as much as they are a part of me, and as much as they interfere with my life, the only reason they do interfere is because of people like her. Inherently, I don’t hate my scars. I don’t see them as bad. They are mine and they are a part of my experience as a human being. I have come to accept them as a part of me – just one of many parts. But when others fail to see beyond that – when they judge my past, my present and my future on the physical marks etched onto my skin and fail to see beyond that – it is hard to not slip into judging myself in much the same way.

Social Anxiety and Shame at the Petrol Station (and Beyond)

The other day I had an awkward social interaction with an old family friend when I was filling up petrol. He is a few years younger than me and a very kind and friendly boy, but I was gutted when he recognised me and came over to say hello… 

It was the first time I had filled up the car and I was shaking with anxiety having driven there and being far out of my comfort zone already (I am an extremely anxious driver). I barely even knew how to open the sockets or use the petrol pumps and even though I’m not a total idiot, my brain was completely blank. It is incredibly frustrating but this is what happens when my system is overloaded with anxiety: it shuts down.

Anyway, the family friend saw me struggling to put the pump back into the holder, making a complete fool of myself. I hadn’t even finished filling up petrol but I really struggle with multi-tasking and wanted to try and focus on the conversation with him, which is why I was attempting to replace the pump. I was shaking and felt so embarrassed and self-conscious. At the same time, my head was in the clouds. I tried to loosen the tension so joked to him about how it was my first time filling up the car and what a nervous driver I am. (Haha, hilarious….. Not.)

He was really sweet and we just made small talk but it was awkward and stilted and I have no idea what bullocks was coming out of my mouth. Because I was struggling to hold a coherent conversation, he misunderstood some parts of what I was saying – which made it even more awkward as we got into such a muddle. (He thought I had said my grandma was unwell, when what I had been trying to say was that I was going to hers for dinner that night!)

Anyway… That evening my mum by chance went to a dinner party that the family of this boy (and the boy) were at. I had told her about the situation earlier and my social anxiety and shame. She decided to speak to the boy and “justify” my behaviour. She told me that she apologised to him on my behalf, saying –

“My daughter said she saw you at the petrol station and was really awkward. I’m really sorry – she struggles on some days you know… She said she was really out of it and felt really embarrassed because she was hardly able to hold the conversation. She’s a really nervous driver and it was her first time filling up, and she struggles with multi-tasking, so it wasn’t personal. She was worried you would think she was being weird and she feels really embarrassed”, etc…

I was pretty taken aback by the level of detail my mum had gone into, and do not really understand her motives. Maybe she was trying to help me, maybe she is ashamed of me, I don’t know. But I don’t think what she shared with the boy was helpful in any regard, considering he isn’t someone I would ever want to share the details of my inner life (and struggles) with. I barely even know him.

I feel like there were a lot of judgements in what she said and also that she made me out to be someone who is unwell, socially inept, flawed, a freak, etc – like people need to treat me differently because I’m “mentally ill”. I do not think that is helpful at all for my identity and how a) I see myself and b) how others see me. I feel even more ashamed and like the boy probably sees me as a struggling weak pathetic person because of it, who’s behaviour needs to be justified through the “mentally ill” card.

I don’t know if I am upset, angry or relieved (because yes, I do feel the need to justify my “atypical” behaviour when I come across like how I did in that interaction with him). All I know is that it has the total opposite effect of helping me to build mastery when my mum says things like that, especially because I am trying hard to move away from that sort of thinking. I am very ashamed. 

Also, I feel like I “should” be angry with my mum but honestly, I don’t really have enough self-respect to fully care enough about the whole thing?

He Saw My Scars and Asked if I Owned a Cat

On my way back from Florida, after battling with myself all week about whether I needed to cover my scars or not, this is what happened –

My family and I were in the airport going through security. I was wearing short-sleeves, as I had done (albeit with difficulty) all week, and my scars were visible enough (despite my attempts to cover them up with medical make-up.) I was at the back of our family, lagging 2 suitcases, so the officer at the desk had to wait a little while longer for me to catch up and move forward in the line.

I thanked him and shot him my best smile, as a gesture of appreciation, expecting a “No problem!” or something of similar meaning. However, his response was so unexpected that I had to ask him to repeat himself:

“So do you have pet cats then?”

He asked, nodding towards my arms.

“Pardon?” 

I said. I wasn’t sure if I had heard him correctly…

“I asked if you have pet cats or something?”

He said, rolling his eyes, gesturing again towards my arms. 

I stood there, somewhat in shock. My heart started racing, my cheeks flushed a rosy red, and I felt my body go numb. 

If anyone has seen the film about Walter Mitty, you will remember his vivid imagination and impressive fantasising skills. This is exactly what happened to me right then:

An imaginary scene played out in my head in which I attacked this man, shouting abuse at him for his ignorance, lashing out at him physically, crying and losing all self-control, turning into the hulk, causing a scene in the airport….. and being dragged away by airport security personnel – to a room with white walls and booty-juice – to top it all off.

What actually happened was that my stepmum gestured to me to go over to her for comfort, 19 Year Old Sis gave me her jacket to cover my arms with, and 12 Year Old Sis gave me a cuddle and continued to check up on me for a while. (I am so glad that she knows the truth now, and that she is as accepting and compassionate as she is.)

I looked away from them all, desperately blinking back tears, feeling as though it was the end of the world. I felt like the most shameful piece of shit in existence. I was sure all the hard work I had put into showing my (albeit medical make-up concealed) scars over the holiday was for nothing. I was convinced I was being punished for allowing myself to expose this part of myself. I just wanted to disappear into the face of the Earth. 

Now that it’s in the past, I am calmer and able to mentalise: maybe he genuinely had no clue being from an older generation; maybe he was trying to be nice; maybe he thought I would find it funny; maybe he is socially impaired himself, etc. 

Although, having said that, my anger, sadness and shame at the time was totally legitimate; it was not a pleasant situation to be in at all.

At least I have a plan of revenge generated: One day I’m going to be proud to show the world who I am – imperfections, scars, and all.