I needed to buy long sleeved shirts in May. I needed to buy long sleeved shirts in May because spring is still too chilly for me to wear short sleeves. I needed to buy long sleeved shirts in May because I don’t like the look of the flabby parts of my upper arms in short sleeves, I like to layer a long sleeved shirt underneath.

Long sleeves…

All of the above statements are true… sort of. These are the half truths I told myself and others as I frantically searched for stores that still had winter stock in the clearance section. It’s such a bargain to buy long sleeved shirts this time of year!

The other half of the truth, the more pressing reason for hunting down long sleeved shirts in May, was an overwhelming urge to cover up more than goose bumps and some saggy skin. I needed long sleeved shirts to cover up my scars. My self inflicted scars.

I went through a very rough time around December 2016 through March 2017 both physically and mentally. Unfortunately I went back to a, seemingly, senseless outlet for my frustration.

For me, self harm is all about guilt. Guilt for causing an inconvenience to others. Guilt for not being able to cope with day to day living like a normal human. Guilt for taking up space in the hospital when there are so many others in need of assistance. Guilt for days, and weeks, and months, and years. Guilt.

Punishment for all the things I feel guiltý about is exactly what guides my blade, burns my flesh. I won’t go into detail about the specifics, let’s just say the scars are deep this time. Deep enough I’m concerned they’ll never fade no matter how much Polysporin I apply. Alas, I think I’m stuck with a few more war wounds. 

I am feeling much stronger and healthier now and am pleased to say the urge to hurt myself has passed. One thing that hasn’t passed is my shame. I am ashamed when my arms are displayed in public. I can see the questions in the eyes of those who see my scarred flesh uncovered and I don’t know what to say.

I suppose the best I can do is assure others I’m receiving good care from my family Dr, my new psychiatrist, and my psychologist. I think as far as therapy goes I’m covered. The level of care I’m receiving is keeping me feeling a lot more balanced and a little more hopeful.

What can you do to help someone like me who may cave to summer weather and decide to fight back against the shame and not constantly cover up in long sleeves? Someone who struggles with a symptom of mental illness that is ugly, and painful, and often not talked about? To be honest I’m not entirely sure but I’ll give you my most humble of opinions.

I understand scars will likely draw some attention but please try not to stare. If I bring up the scarring this generally means I’m feeling comfortable and may be an invitation to ask questions you might have or to offer words of support or antidotes about those with common experiences. Tread lightly here though, if you see tears forming or other outward signs of stress like fidgeting, looking around for an exit, or a tightening of the voice, mind the signals and back off but don’t assume you’ve done anything wrong. 

Remember self harm is a difficult topic to discuss because it is a symptom of some mental illnesses that have been particularly well hidden and shamed for a long time. It is only recently being spoken about in a more public manner and is hopefully on the road to destigmatization. 

Please, please, please don’t play armchair psychiatrist and offer your opinion on what the “cure” is. If the person you’re speaking with is distressed and/or actively self harming, isn’t recieving ongoing psychiatric treatment, and asks for your help, do NOT attempt to handle things on your own.

Your role should be to offer your loving support and assistance contacting a crisis centre such as http://www.distresscentre.com for Calgary, Alberta and surrounding areas via email or phone at (403) 266-4357 or for greater Alberta, http://www.albertahealthservices.ca and searching Access Mental Health.

The best thing you can offer a person trying to cope with self harm, be it an active issue or reflections on past troubles, is non-judgmental love and support. If you feel uncomfortable be honest about it. Remember that it’s ok to suggest talking to a professional instead, then offering a big hug, and redirecting the conversation.

I hope my perspective sheds a little light on what some of the reasons for self harm might be and what friends and family can do to help.

K

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