As the weather heats up and the season of beaches and swimming pools approaches, fun plans are made, holidays are booked, and events are organized. Alongside these things, however, insecurities can also be brought to the surface.
When the parts of your body normally covered by long sleeves and tights or trousers are marked with old or more recent scars, there is an extra dimension to dressing for summer holidays.
We may spend hot days by the pool desperately seeking shade in jeans and a hoodie, gazing enviously at those relaxing in the sun in shorts.
We may even avoid being outside in nice weather altogether, instead of sticking close to the air conditioning unit. It can be easy to convince ourselves we don’t miss participating in the summer activities. But is it true?
When living behind a disguise, we have to think through every action. Will waving my hands in the air at a festival cause my sleeve to drop? Will getting changed at camp expose the marks on my legs? Will agreeing to this holiday with my friends mean I have to wear a swimsuit in front of them?
I can often allow feeling trapped by my past to influence my decisions in the present. Do those decisions bring joy and life and freedom? Do they help me to connect with the people I love?
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We often hide because we are afraid of the reactions of those who may see our marks.
We buy into lies and insecurities telling us we will be judged. What if we are seen as weak or known to be the person with issues? What if someone decides we are too broken to invest in anymore?
Well, what if those things do happen?! Realistically, we need to learn to sit with the truth of those possibilities but we also need to weigh the risk. We are not naive enough to think it wouldn’t be painful, but it would be a great loss if the fear of an unlikely possibility actually likely stopped us from living a full life.
Some people may feel uncomfortable with your scars but it’s important to remember what is your responsibility and what isn’t.
You are responsible for your own decisions and others are responsible for their responses.
One response may be to ask lots of questions about your scars and how they came about (either genuinely not realizing the origin or wanting to know more about your self-harm).
It’s so important to be gentle with yourself in this. I know many times I have been taken by surprise at being asked about my scars and not responded in the way I would have liked to. Although sometimes I respond in a measured way to educate them, other times I can be defensive, vague, evasive, or even just lie. Afterwards, I would be deeply disappointed in myself.
However, talking easily about this is a level of vulnerability incredibly difficult to maintain every day.
We wouldn’t expect someone to be ready to talk about their divorce, for example, at any time or in any company. Why then is it different for self-harm scars? Just because something is more visible doesn’t mean it is less painful or an easier conversation topic.
Ultimately, you don’t owe anyone an explanation. Your skin and your story belong to you and you alone.
It used to make me feel vulnerable because the evidence of some of my moments of greatest weakness is written on my body. I was afraid others would see I was not as together as I would like to come across.
The reality, however, is we are all broken, albeit in different ways and there is no shame in our brokenness. We cannot change anything about our past decisions except for the way we choose to perceive them now. These just happen to be the result of one of our coping mechanisms leaving visible and lasting evidence.
The exposure is not in the scars but in what they represent.
Remember, the person for whom your scars have the most meaning is always going to be you. You might glance at your skin and see a map of desperate moments and overwhelming events but others cannot possibly read it in the intimate way you do.
Furthermore, a scar shows repair and regeneration. The Merriam-Webster dictionary describes a scar as “a mark left by the healing of injured tissue.” Your body has worked to restore itself and you have allowed it to happen with nourishing and protection. You should be proud.
As I look at my arms, I try to see my scars as moments where I felt overwhelmed and desperate and yet chose to continue – chose to cope in the only way I believed I could in the moment.
I now know there are other, better ways to manage, but I am learning to be compassionate with the version of me who could see no other response.
I do not condone continuing to use self-harm as a way to cope, but I choose not to be ashamed of my scars. The same decision is there for any of us to take hold of.
Your body is your means of experiencing the world. Its function is not to look a certain way–it is to allow you to interact with your environment. I want to feel the wind in my sea-salty hair and the coolness of my limbs moving through smooth water. I want summer to be a time of genuine joy.
The scars of your past do not have to take away from your future. I survived serious mental illness and I refuse to allow it to dictate how I live the life I wrestled back. I want fullness, freedom, wild joy, and spontaneous interaction, not to be constantly over thinking some marks on my body.