A few weeks go I wrote a piece about self harm and my experiences with living with my old, teenage-me inflicted scars, which was subsequently picked up by a few online publications.
As expected, I got some very nasty comments – mainly along the lines of “I can’t believe you were allowed to keep your children, you fucking nutcase” – which actually don’t worry me at all, believe me. Although they did piss me off somewhat as a) did you actually read the article you dunces? And b) it made me feel like shit for all the people who aren’t as gung ho and ‘I’m a good person, so go fuck yourself if you don’t like me’ as I am.
There were also a couple of “get over yourself, no one is looking at you” comments. I know where the sentiment comes from, as that is what I tell my son if he’s worried about what jeans he has on or how his hair looks.
But…people DO look at scars. They look at any form of scar, blemish or disfigurement that a person may have.
It’s a fact of life that people are both nosey and judgmental. It’s also a fact of life that a certain proportion of people think it is their God-given right to walk up to a stranger and demand to know what is wrong with them. It’s just life.
I got a few lovely messages too, mostly from parents who are in the same boat as me. They went through a short period of self harm as young teenagers and now, twenty odd years on are still having to deal with all the stigma that scars bring and having to sweat through the summers hiding their arms/legs/chests/ wherever they cut as its better to feel like you are going to melt than face the stares and the whispering and the threat of losing friends who don’t know that period of your past.
I heard from Mothers that spent their pregnancies in fear that a Midwife or Health Visitor will see their old scars and assume they are a danger to their children and Father’s that can’t take their children swimming, as they are terrified that people will look at their scars and unfairly judge them.
This next part is quite odd to write and also quite personal – but fuck it; it’s nothing I wouldn’t tell you if I went for a drink with you.
The over riding part that struck me about all our experiences was the common theme of WHY we turned to self-harm. I mainly heard from parents who were aged between 35 and 45. A few of them had experienced difficult childhoods or trauma, but a few of them of didn’t and one name kept cropping up over and over again: Richey Edwards.
If you don’t know who Richey Edwards is, this is him:
Yep, yep, yep. See? As the guitarist, political activist and songwriting genius of the Manic Street Preachers, Richey was idolised by teenagers. That photo of him with ‘4 Real’ cut into his arms was the front cover of all the music papers and magazines. Posters of it hung on teenage bedroom walls and for a lot of people, it was the first time they had heard of self harm.
Richey made self harm cool.
I am not blaming him – his personal reasons for self harm and his struggles with his mental health are well documented, but for a generation of young people, my opinion is that it did plant a seed in their heads. Just like my elder sister who was a punk as a teen and idolised Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen, and so dabbled drugs to be like them. Just like my mother who was so obsessed with the Rolling Stones and their entourage that she dabbled with pot to be like Marianne Faithful – and just like the young girls today, pumping fillers into their lips so they can keep up with the Kardashians.
I didn’t have the easiest of childhoods, but I can hand on heart say that if I didn’t idolise The Manic Street Preachers or Richey Edwards, that I would NEVER have turned to self harm.
Self harm was quite a calculated decision on my part. My friend and I would steal tubes of numbing cream from her district nurse mother, go and buy some sharp blades from Wickes, plan what we were going to cut by drawing it on paper first and get started with the cutting.
Yes, I know that sounds fucking bonkers.
But that is what we did. And at the London gigs and clubs we went to as 14 and 15 year old girls, there were many, many other young people doing the same thing.
It was almost like an elite club; have the guts to slice up your arms like Richey and you are in. And it was always the arms – the whole point was for people to see. It was like an exhibition of “look how young, fucked up and disillusioned we are” before you would go back to you cosseted middle class home to get on with your English homework.
Most people who self harm do not cut their arms. They cut their thighs, stomachs and chests. Places that are personal and only they see. But we did the arms as we wanted to be seen, be talked about, be noticed and BE COOL.
Please don’t think I am belittling the experience of people for who self harm was a symptom of depression, anxiety or the affects of living with abuse.
I am not – I am just trying to cack-handedly explain my experience, and the experience of a few other parents who have contacted me over the past couple of weeks.
Maybe it is a sign of something more underlying that I chose self harm. I will never know. All I know is that after a year or so, that phase petered out and we moved on and became obsessed with other scenes and never revisited thoughts of self harm again.
I do, however, still have to live with the scars.
For whatever reasons people self harm, the scars are always there and we will forever be tarred with the ‘mental’ brush because of them. That is what unites all past self harmers. What ever their reasons, they will have to live the rest of their lives hiding, explaining, feeling like shit because of strangers stares and tuts and worrying about how it will effect their children and living in fear of telling new friends about why they always cover up.