The long-term consequences of self-injury

Trigger warning: I talk about self-injury and scars

Though I’ve gone over 2 years without cutting myself, I’m still facing the consequences of self-injury, and will likely continue to do so for the rest of my life. My scars have faded a lot over the last couple of years, and I’m very lucky that the ones on my thighs are now almost invisible, but the ones on my arm are still very noticeable. At the beginning of summer 2012, I dreaded going on holiday because I knew it would be far too hot to wear long sleeves, and I was worried that people would stare at and make comments about my then bright red scars. I was worried that people would think I was showing them off for attention or that they would think a lot less of me as a person because of them. I realise that as someone with social anxiety disorder, I’ve shot myself in the foot by giving myself those scars because it’s another thing to feel massively self-conscious about and something else about me for other people to judge negatively. I think all the time about how short-sighted it was of me to permanently scar myself like that. And yet, at the time, it seemed the only way to survive the immense emotional pain. Paradoxically, when I was making those scars, I honestly didn’t think I’d live long enough for them to cause me any problems or for anyone to find out about them. I’m so thankful that things are a lot better now than they were back then, but I immensely regret what I’ve done to myself.

I’ve gotten better at dealing with having my scars on display when on holiday, though I do still feel extremely self-conscious for the first couple of days. Though my scars are considerably less visible now than they were a couple of years ago, I feel that people do still stare/ look at them. However, during this year’s holiday, I got to the point, after 3 or 4 days, where I almost didn’t care what people thought of my scars. I kept telling myself that I’d most likely never see any of those people again, and that they could look at my scars all they wanted and think what they wanted about me, but their thoughts and judgements weren’t necessarily correct. Thankfully, no one has ever made any nasty comments about them (or at least not to my face).

At home, however, I feel that I ALWAYS have to wear long sleeves if I am leaving the house or if anyone who isn’t an immediate family member is visiting. Even if I’m just walking the dog, I feel that I can’t wear short-sleeves because the neighbours might notice and ask about it, and I don’t want anyone I know (aside from my immediate family, who already know) finding out about my scars. I also worry particularly about children seeing my scars, or that they could trigger someone else. Of course, the fact that my arm always has to be covered means that I often end up overheating to the point of physical discomfort if, for example, I’m wearing a jacket with a short-sleeved t-shirt underneath because the temperature is cool in the morning, but it warms up later on in the day, or if it’s a very warm summer’s day and I want to leave the house. I always have to be vigilant that relatives outside of my immediate family, and other people such as my sister’s friends, don’t end up seeing my scars. I worry that my grandparents and cousins will eventually find out about it. I don’t want them knowing what I’ve done to myself.

It can’t be easy for my immediate family members to see my scars. Back when I was self-harming, my depression had distorted my mind to the point where I didn’t think they cared about me and they would only react with anger or ridicule, thinking I was attention-seeking, if they ever found out about my scars. But it’s probably very tough for my parents to see them and to know that they’ll never fade. I feel terrible for that. I never realised at the time that it might affect other people as well. In the seemingly very unlikely event that I ever have children, what will I tell them when they ask how I got those scars? What if they then try injuring themselves when they’re older because of me? I feel so much guilt and regret. My scars would probably put any potential boyfriends or friends off me anyway, if they ever found out. I also worry that it’ll really put off potential employers if it’s required of me to wear short sleeves. So I may even have fewer job opportunities because of this as well.

I realise that it’s incredibly hypocritical of me to say so, but if you haven’t self-injured before and are seriously considering doing so, I urge you to reach out for help and support in any way you can. Whether it’s a relative, friend, professional, teacher/ student support service, crisis support phone line, or support forum, please tell someone how you are feeling. It can also help to google “alternatives to self-harm” for some suggestions on how to deal with your overwhelming emotional pain in a way that doesn’t involve physically injuring yourself. Some alternatives that I found useful while I was trying to stop self-injuring were:

  • Colouring my arm with red pen where I wanted to cut, then washing the pen off
  • Going to sleep instead of self-harming if it was night time (the urges to self-harm would often have lessened by the morning)
  • Throwing and smashing ice cubes in my garden/ into a bathtub (I know it sounds bizarre but it did help, particularly when anger at myself or at people in my past was the main reason I wanted to cut). Please be very careful that you don’t damage or break anything (or any person or animal) other than the ice cubes if you do this (unless it’s an object that no one minds if you break).
  • Holding an ice pack against the area that I wanted to cut, or pouring cold water over the area (gives an uncomfortable physical sensation without injuring/ harming yourself)
  • Exercising at a moderate-high intensity (helps with anger)
  • Writing down how you feel in a journal
  • Listening to music

I’m also sharing a link to this page, which I found helpful. I may put up a bigger/ more comprehensive list of alternatives to self-harm on this blog in future. Feel free to leave a comment with a list of things that have helped you if you are struggling or have struggled with self-injury. I can honestly say that though injuring myself provided emotional relief in that moment, it was absolutely not worth the consequences of having permanent scars. I used to think my self-harm would never get so bad that I would scar myself, but it’s amazing how quickly it becomes an addiction.

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3 Responses to The long-term consequences of self-injury

  1. asha says:

    Thank you so much for your honesty about the regret you feel. Not many people talk about this aspect. I am going to reblog this post as I feel my Mums would find it helpful. Don’t worry about your parents feeling sad when they see your scars. When I look at my daughters arms i do feel sad but then comes incredible pride that she overcame something that was so difficult. She has true resilience, as do you.If ever you want to write to Mums about how it felt growing up with depression, please feel free ( or I will share your posts if that’s ok ). I will check out your other posts but for now thank you for sharing.

    • Gemma says:

      Thanks for your comment. And thank you for sharing my post on your blog. I think it’s a great idea for mums to be able to understand what it’s like for their child who is self-harming (because I realise that it must be very difficult for a person to understand why their child does it if they have never done it themselves), and to have a resource which provides support and alternatives to self-injury. Yes, you’re welcome to share my other posts if you’d like to. In addition to the regret about scars that I’ve mentioned, there’s also the regret about what I (without intending to) put my mum through in other ways, such as probably a great deal of worry and upset. I know that she was very, very worried about me when she first found out that I was suicidal. I was not really even able to consider how this may have affected other people at the time, but feel a lot of guilt about it looking back now.

  2. asha says:

    Reblogged this on M.A.S.H and commented:
    More distraction ideas from someone in recovery.

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