Her small hands hesitate just the slightest bit as they brush over the thick pink scars. Brown eyes meet mine and then immediately flick back down to the rushing water of the pedicure chair.
Her eyes pry, “What happened to you?” or “Who did this to you?” I can’t be sure which.
Pedicures are a new thing for me, up until about a year ago, it made me too uncomfortable when anybody that I didn’t know on a personal level touched me. During a coaching session, I learned that I held the belief that my body is disgusting. I don’t know how many years I carried that around with me, but it was an amazing thing to let go of.
I’m curious if purging that negative belief has put a stop to the vicious cycle of self-harm that I have engaged in over the years. The most recent marks are near my ankles and were created in a frenzy of emotion coupled with my, “I don’t give a fuck what people think of me,” attitude. Of course, that only lasted a few minutes, through the high, and then the shame came washing up to shore.
For many years starting in primary school, I went to therapists for chronic depression. I never told them about cutting because I didn’t believe it was any of their business. At such an early age, I understood it wasn’t something I could talk about or let people see, but I didn’t feel any shame over it. It was my normal.
At some point in my teenage years, I read about self-harm in a magazine. The same way the media tells us to worry about our body shape and size, it told me to be ashamed of my scars. The emotions shifted quickly, and the more humiliated I felt, the more impulsively I cut.
Since then, there have been periods where I refrained from breaking my skin, not because I wanted to stop for me, but because I couldn’t bear the disappointment and disgust it caused in the people closest to me. Often I could find other forms of self-harm that didn’t leave lasting evidence and resorted to those tactics whenever I felt necessary.
For a few years, I’d say I was in remission after remarkable alternative treatment that brought an end to suicidal thoughts and depression. Thoughts of self-harm were far enough from my mind that I wasn’t afraid. But I didn’t exactly trust myself either. Fundamentally, I knew I hadn’t dealt with the problem even though the depression was gone. I always tried to buy one razor, use it, and dispose of it as quickly as possible.
I guess that the reason it has been so difficult to stop hurting myself is that it is a learned behavior, and I picked it up quite young. Unintentionally, it became a coping mechanism. I couldn’t tell you how many different “things” I felt I used it to deal with but if you got to the root of every one of those “things” they were probably feelings and emotions.
I was a person that let my feelings run my life. I had ups and downs, but mostly downs and far downs. But that isn’t what I projected, because I fundamentally believed it was my duty to hold it together. I did my best to show my shiny side; the smiling happy go lucky side. I wasn’t authentic at all.
So many people believe that self-harm is just an issue kids have, and a phase that they grow out of. For me, it seems like it’s a lifelong battle. Anyone who knows me would be surprised to hear that just last year, I was afraid of myself. I was so ashamed of the angry red marks I had carved. I covered them with bandages long after the scabs fell off just to avoid having to look at them. I told some of my friends about the issue because I assumed the more people who knew about it, the harder it would be to continue doing it. I wanted to stop, but it felt like it was out of my control.
Over the past year, I have learned to gain control. I can’t choose my feelings or emotions, but I can practice how I react to them much better. I use a variety of tools and tactics to take a step back and try to understand what’s underneath my reactions, and I’ve let go of a lot of damaging limiting beliefs. I wish I had learned more of these tools when I was younger. Self-awareness and emotional intelligence have been the best treatment for depression and self-harm that I have ever received. Learning to love myself was a part of that education.
So when I sit down in a thickly padded massage chair to treat myself to a pedicure, I am not ashamed of the scars I wear. I’m not always ready to share my story, but deep inside I accept myself just the way I am, and I am falling a little bit more in love with me every day.
Originally published on kaylamdouglas.com