People generally respond to a question using “It’s a long story” when either there truly is not enough time to tell a story, or (more likely) it’s not something that they want to discuss right now. I use this response often, probably more than most. After years of struggling with self-harm, it isn’t much of a secret that I have a few scars – some more obvious than others. It’s been long enough that they’re all faded, but obviously still visible, they are never going to go away. My scars are a part of my story, and I accepted that long ago. I can look at my scars and be proud of everything that I’ve overcome and how far I’ve made it. But what do I say to a stranger when they point to one and ask, “What happened?” It’s generally not a big deal to tell a story about a scar – but it’s a little different when they are self-inflicted. So, my go-to response is just to reply that it’s a long story, and that’s usually the end of that; no one has the time to listen.
Lately, though, I’ve been thinking – what would really happen if I was honest? First, I want you to realize just how much stigma and judgment our society holds against people who have self-harmed, attempted suicide, or even just struggle with depression… it’s a lot. People who haven’t struggled with these things don’t understand them, we tend to be wary of things we don’t understand. Keeping that in mind – my responses would look something like these: “Oh those, a few years back I sliced them into my arm with a razor blade.” Or, “Oh, that one – I carved it into my shoulder with a rock.” Can you picture this person’s face? They were probably expecting to hear about some horse-back riding accident or car crash. At this point they’re probably thinking that I’m a total freak, and that they need to get out of there ASAP. If curious they might ask, “Why?” Why would I injure myself on purpose… what would I say? Would I be honest and say that it was the only way I could bring myself down from a panic attack, or that I was experiencing a PTSD flashback and I didn’t know how else to cope. Or would I try to blow it off and just say that I was going through a hard time?
I can think about this kind of scenario as long as I want, but it really doesn’t matter because I will never be able to share myself like that. We as human beings are judgmental, whether we mean to be or not. Depression, self-harm, bipolar disorder, anxiety, eating disorders… all mental illness are looked down upon. Those who struggle with them are judged without reason. It’s very unlikely that someone would want to hear more after learning right away that I am in recovery from self-injury, bulimia, and have a past of suicide attempts… instead they would run the other way! But oh how interesting it would be if someone actually did listen to the whole, long story. Could they get past their instinctive judgement? Would they listen when I explain how Jesus saved my life? How after years of abuse & self-abuse I am finally learning to love myself again. How, after trying to end my life, I now cherish it and am grateful for another chance. I am a survivor. While my past has shaped me into the woman I am today, it does not define me.
End the stigma. End the bad jokes about self harm, suicide, and mental illness in general. You do not know her story, you don’t know his reasons – you have no right to judge them.
In the mean time… my scars, and those of others like me, will just be a lot of stories too long for anyone to hear.