Our very own YouthLiner opens up about their struggle with self-injury, recovery, regaining control, and finding hope.
TRIGGER WARNING: If you struggle with self-harm or suicidal thoughts, the following post could be triggering. For support, you can reach out to YouthLine 4pm-10pm PST by call, text, or chat or call 1(800)273-8255, 24/7.
Numbness hurts. A lot. It’s a dull aching pain that follows you around. It can make you feel lost, completely cut off from everything around you. For me, it made me feel inhuman, I felt so hollow and devoid of feeling I was willing to do anything to get out of it, even if that meant hurting myself. So that’s what I did, for the better part of my middle school years, as well as a decent portion of my freshman and sophomore years. With a lot of self love and support from those around me who loved me unconditionally, I stopped. I found other coping mechanisms and learned how to allow myself to be vulnerable with those who cared about me, I learned in therapy how to open up, and most of all that it was OK to not be OK.
I am now proudly 3 years clean from self injury, but I am still left with reminders of my self harm. My arms, legs, hips, and stomach are covered in scars, all in various stages of healing, some raised, others flat and white. But they all remain stubborn and refuse to fade. I am forced to confront my scars anytime I look at myself in a mirror, they are constantly in the front of my mind when I get dressed or plan outfits. My self injury scars make the most painful and personal part of my life open to the world, and it seems as soon as I begin to forget about them someone reminds me they exist. Whether its eyes flicking down to my scars when I wear shorts in the summer, or a doctor refusing to talk to me about my migraines until I promised her to “be kind to myself”.
I am not ashamed of my scars, and I am not ashamed of struggling with mental illness, but my scars being visible to anyone I interact with means I can’t control who knows about my struggles with self injury. This thought has plagued me since I first got clean, I opened up to my mom about it and she offered to take me to get them lasered off. At first I was elated, so ready to close this chapter and move onto the next, but as I sat in the doctor’s office and was shown a photoshopped image of my leg with no scars I realized it wasn’t what I wanted. I didn’t want them to be gone, I just wanted them to only be visible to myself. I wanted to gain that control over my body and my struggle back.
In the second grade, I was randomly assigned to write a report on orcas in elementary school and was immediately captivated. I learned as much as I could about their conservation, biology, and most of all their pod and family structure. I even refused to go to SeaWorld that summer because I didn’t want to support their business. The thing that captivated me the most was their capacity for empathy, orcas have a part of the brain that humans don’t, and most biologists suspect that it’s an extension of the amygdala and it allows orcas to reach another, deeper level of empathy than humans can. When they are separated from their family they grieve, they develop dialects, and remain attached to their family for their entire lives.
My 15th year was rough, I was forced to leave traditional school because of an undiagnosed panic disorder and had completely isolated myself. I fell into a deep depression, and didn’t see myself living much longer. When my birthday rolled around, I didn’t have any friends to celebrate and fully intended to spend my day alone. My dad, however, had different plans. He surprised me with tickets to go whale watching in the Puget Sound. On the day of the trip, I gritted my teeth against the wind as the boat sped into the Sound, after about an hour the captain shut off the engine and we waited, we waited for the orcas to appear. At first they appeared at random intervals, popping shyly out of the water or gliding just below the surface, flying past the boat. I waited alone on the right edge of the deck staring at the water, waiting for the water to break and reveal the large animal I knew was underneath.
I glimpsed movement under the surface and watched, mouth agape, as a giant orca, J-27 Blackberry, broke the surface The first thing I noticed was how huge he was, I knew going into the trip that orcas can grow to up to 30 feet long but seeing it in person was something I could have never imagined. As head broke the surface, it looked at me and I knew that it knew I was there. Looking into the eyes of this orca I could fully understand how every culture that had come into contact with them was captivated by them, depicting them as guardians or gods. In that moment I began to cry, alone on the deck staring at an animal I couldn’t begin to understand.
When a memory is so formative it can be hard to put into words, but that whale watching trip carried me through one of the darkest periods of my life, and I knew that I wanted it to be immortalized on my body forever. I would day dream about orcas nestled in blackberries decorating my arms and legs. My 18th birthday loomed closer and closer, and the tattoo became less of a daydream and more of a real possibility. I turned 18 on October 3rd, and on October 17th I was tattooed.
For four hours I sat while my tattoo artist outlined, shaded, and colored in the orca, my orca. I watched as the orca took shape and my self harm scars gradually faded and disappeared underneath the ink. The first time I saw my finished tattoo I couldn’t stop smiling, I couldn’t tear my eyes away from it, in a span of four hours my forearm went from something I felt compelled to hide to something I wanted everyone in my life to see.
My scars are still there, just covered by something beautiful, and meaningful. I have not erased memories of my past, but I have paired it with my present appreciation for life. I have no intention of ever getting rid of my scars or erasing them entirely or moving forward as if they didn’t exist, but I have every intention of decorating my scars with art, art tied to meaningful, beautiful memories to remind me of how far I have come, and how much further I will go.