I completed my CELTA course recently and started my first ever teaching position at a summer school. It has been the cause for a variety of emotions, but one of the things it has had me considering the most is my self- harm scars.
As a teenager I retreated to my bed, to silence, to a closed bedroom door and dissembled razors. I came to revel in my red arms. There was a power that came from the provocation of my parents, my friends, teachers. Let them look, let them be afraid and aghast and disgusted. I was horrifying anyway, with scars or without. The monstrousness of my actions was only a clear and cutting representation of who I was.
Cutting and burning myself on my arms was not a cry for help, as it were. I have always had a tendency to do things without considering the wider consequences. As a teenager this was acute because I did not believe I was going to live much longer. It didn’t matter what irreversible damage I did to my body, because I was a corpse. I just hadn’t killed myself yet.
I’m 27 now. I have just started teaching. I have a lot of scars. For years I haven’t cared about it, have brushed off other peoples lingering looks and outright stares. I have worked a variety of jobs where perhaps it seemed irrelevant. Now I am attempting a profession I actually really enjoy, and am good at. I must stand up in front of teenagers and play the teacher. I cannot shed my skin, so am forced to cover it up.
Teaching means creating a persona for yourself, a professional boundary. There is nothing more intimate, more revealing, than my scars. In London we are having a heat wave, and I take the underground to work with a cardigan in my bag.
On the tube I try not to care who sees, but still register the flicker across a fellow commuters face. The surprise, the curiosity, the twinge of disgust. Recently, my arm sat eye line to middle aged business man. Unprovoked he suddenly exclaimed ‘Wow, those are a lot of scars!’
I felt my face turn red. ‘Is that any of your business?’ I asked, as calmly as I could ‘No, I don’t think it is’. He looked genuinely shocked at my response. ‘Well that’s very polite! Good morning to you too!’
Just because they are noticeable, does not mean you are vindicated in commenting on them. They are not tattoos. They are not a lifestyle choice. They are very, very private. As private as your past mistakes are to you, too.
But for me, my sad teenage self lives on. I walk around with her stupidity punctuated across my arms. I don’t want to look at her any more, I don’t care about her any more. But still, she is one of the first things people see. That stupid corpse of a girl.
The general line when it comes to self harm scars is that we ‘survivors’ should take pride in them. This is not a sentiment I can truly believe. Because we all must live in the world as it is. A world full of prejudice, pre-conceived ideas and ignorance surrounding mental health. These marks on my arm speak louder in a job interview than anything else.
Perhaps this overly dramatic, but I feel that I can never be judged on the merits of who I am now. That fool of the past is rather more attention grabbing. She always brings the conversation back round to herself.
So I cover my arms in the summer. I scrutinise the glances of others. At parties, I stand paranoid. Arms twisted to the door.