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01 May 2012 @ 11:04 pm
#BADD 2012: I Belong To Myself  
A note about commenting, since this is the sort of subject this is relevant to: my journal does have anon comments enabled, but they're screened because I keep getting spam. I let non-spam ones through, obviously!

Today is Blogging Against Disablism Day. So I've decided to write a post, after thinking about it for a while. I haven't decided yet whether I dare to submit it to the masterlist of posts, which you can find here. I do encourage you to read at least some of them.

What I'm writing about are attitudes to evidence of self-harm. Since it's May Day, and summer started when we heard the singers from Magdalen Tower, this becomes especially relevant.

Trigger warning: Discussion of depression and self-harm

So. I have quite a few scars. Most of them are in places where people rarely see — I've never been a fan of above-knee skirts. There are more where you have to know they're there. (I can see them, thin as cobwebs.)

And then there are the ones which I can't hide without covering them with cloth. They're the ones resulting from me being angry, furious with myself. When depression grabs me in a rip-tide and drags me down so fast and far I can't tell that's what's happening. When I blame myself for not being better, cleverer, stronger. These are the ones which are punishments I feel at the time that I deserve, when I feel I deserve to be marked deep. And when I surface again, these are the ones which leave their marks on me. Down my bicep, across my forearm. These are the ones which people see.

People do see them — a couple are really, really obvious. I don't hide my scars any more. There seems little point, and I — I badly don't want to be ashamed of them. But people see, and people react.

My friends ask me what one is from. I can say, from my thesis. From the last time I was home. From nothing at all, just a bad night. Or I can tell stories, make people laugh, which I like doing. Objectively, depression is hilarious. Melodrama and overblown-angst, and if I can't make entertainment from that, what sort of a writer am I? I have a couple of stories which have made everyone laugh hugely, including my doctor and my disability mentor. They tried to stop laughing, and tried to apologise but I love making people laugh at these things, instead of keeping them as an ominous secret. This is the sort of thing which should be turned upside down until the inherent ridiculousness falls out.

Other people are harder. Occasionally I meet people who genuinely have no idea what my scars are from, and want to know. And… what am I supposed to say? I can be honest, but reactions to that are hard to predict. Mental illnesses are supposed to be secret and shameful. They make other people uncomfortable, so we're not supposed to talk about them. We have to protect the sane people from the knowledge that not everyone is so. So usually I'll give the instinctive response I've trained myself to say automatically: "I had a fight with a tiger." This has a lot of benefits. A lot of the time it's enough to make people have a second thought and realise what I mean. It amuses small children (I can embellish this story — it's an epic tale that I've told to a couple of five-year-olds.) It's also a good means to get across the message that I don't want to talk about this right now. Please, respect this. Why should I have to spill myself at a moment's notice?

And there's also the other reaction, and this is worse. It's when people look at me and they get this distinct expression which is a blend of pity and horror. And then I get asked about my scars in a voice which also has those emotions in.

Don't do this. Please. This is the sort of question I'll always give my Tiger answer to, because… well, it's hard to describe how much this attitude makes me feel ashamed, of being myself. It makes me into something weird, something not-normal. And these are the people, these are always the people who won't take my answer for what it is. Some people keep asking and asking, even when they clearly know the answer. Some people seem to want me to say this for them, just to satisfy their curiosity, to confirm what they already. (This happened recently with P's boyfriend. He kept asking me until I wanted to run away and cry. I'm still angry about this, because it made me feel so absolutely horrible.)

No. You aren't owed an answer or an explanation of anyone else's body. You aren't owed me telling you anything about this, because your reaction can be dangerous to me.

I dislike the stigma surrounding mental illnesses. Often this is something I will be happy to do more, to talk about the politics of it at great length. But, see, this happens on my own terms. I'm not a zoo exhibit, and if I wasn't made to feel like one so often, I wouldn't have this post to write about it. I'm entitled to respect. As a person.

And if you see my scars and when you were heading towards me you back up instead, or say something like, "What happened to your arm? It almost looks like you're one of those crazy people who cut themselves!" (This has happened. Several times,) then, well. You're entitled to no part of my attention. Ever.

Posted at http://frith-in-thorns.dreamwidth.org/54026.html with comment count unavailable comments.
 
 
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littlered2littlered2 on May 1st, 2012 10:29 pm (UTC)
Thank you for writing this.

And if you see my scars and when you were heading towards me you back up instead, or say something like, "What happened to your arm? It almost looks like you're one of those crazy people who cut themselves!" (This has happened. Several times,) then, well. You're entitled to no part of my attention. Ever.

People have seriously done that? Ugh, how horrible. Sometimes I just despair.

Objectively, depression is hilarious.

Oh god, yes. There are so many incidents which, while they were awful at the time, are still deeply hilarious in hindsight (and I could see that some were hilarious even while they were happening). Depression is horrible, but it's also really good to be able to just laugh at the ridiculous side of it sometimes.
littlered2littlered2 on May 1st, 2012 10:31 pm (UTC)
(I didn't realise today was BADD - fitting, as I posted elsewhere on the internet the awful story of how, upon Rob first telling me he was deaf in one ear, I blurted out, "That's not a proper disability!". Oh god, so dreadful. I had a crush on him and was flustered! But that's no excuse for SAYING AWFUL THINGS. Somehow it didn't put him off.)
littlered2littlered2 on May 1st, 2012 11:34 pm (UTC)
(Oh god oh god, I am the worst person ever. Feel free to hate me for being awful and ablist.)
Frith: Zundry - bobtail squidfrith_in_thorns on May 2nd, 2012 04:49 pm (UTC)
I will never talk to you again. Truefax :P
littlered2littlered2 on May 2nd, 2012 04:53 pm (UTC)
For the life of me, I still don't understand why Rob's reaction wasn't "This girl is clearly ignorant and ablist. I will avoid her" but instead was "She should be my girlfriend!". I would have deserved the first one.
Frith: Books - Discworld - Wordsfrith_in_thorns on May 1st, 2012 10:43 pm (UTC)
Thank you :) I'm nervous about posting things like this, but on the other hand I think that just talking about this is such an important thing to do. I wanted to join in with BADD last year but didn't quite dare to - this year I went for it :)

Yep, people have said that. I mean, it was clearly supposed to be a joke, and he was completely horrified when I said that I was one of those crazy people, but it's such a shitty thing to say. I can't stand people who say bigoted things and think it's okay just because (they assume) there's no one from that group around to hear them.

And yup, depression is just so stupid. Actually, last time I had a major episode I sat down and wrote everything I was feeling onto Neal Caffrey - and reading it back a few days later I just couldn't stop giggling because it was so emo. Ahaha, brains, what on earth do we need them for? :P
littlered2littlered2 on May 1st, 2012 11:34 pm (UTC)
Ugh - just because nobody from the group you're saying bad things about is there to hear you doesn't make it any less wrong.

Brains! So ridiculous.
a rearranger of the proverbial bookshelf: Dark Angel - OC/drinkembroiderama on May 1st, 2012 11:06 pm (UTC)
What happened to your arm? It almost looks like you're one of those crazy people who cut themselves!" (This has happened. Several times,)

Wow, those are some smart cookies right there. :\ I'm sorry you've had to deal with that.

I have some scars, not exactly from the same thing but close enough. They're faint enough that people probably don't see them much, but if anyone does it's pretty clear what I was trying to do. Covering them up would be impractical and uncomfortable, so I don't.

And depression and the things it leads a person to do or fail to do really can be hilarious objectively. In the "I did that because of WHAT?" sense and also the "You act like you're a smart person but you totally failed to do WHAT?" sense as well. *sigh*
Frith: AtLA - Katara - fire lily fieldfrith_in_thorns on May 1st, 2012 11:54 pm (UTC)
Thank you :) And *hugs*.

I wrote this post to tell people that this happens. Society has some terrible attitudes, and pointing them out is the first step to fighting them. I'm in a fight-y mood at the moment :)

And oh yes, both those questions are so familiar! Like, I had a meeting with my mentor today, at which I told her about something I'd been massively worrying about all weekend and also in the same breath summed up both why my worrying was out of proportion and all of the things I could have done about it, but hadn't, and how terrible my reasons for avoiding those things were XD WHY, BRAINS.
RabidChild's Ficrabidchild on May 1st, 2012 11:39 pm (UTC)
I don't know what to say here, what the right thing is, so, like, nouns:

Support

Respect

Love

Hugs

(OK, so they are also verbs)
Frithfrith_in_thorns on May 2nd, 2012 12:04 am (UTC)
I like those words :) I wasn't going for any specific reaction with this post - I just wanted to talk about these things happening. Because they're hard to notice, otherwise, and easy for people to do by accident.

Thank you :)
gekkoryugekkoryu on May 1st, 2012 11:39 pm (UTC)
People are stupid.
We love and support you because you are awesome.

Also, if I was a 5 year old you would probably be my favorite person EVER.
Frith: Zundry - kitty hugsfrith_in_thorns on May 2nd, 2012 12:05 am (UTC)
Re: People are stupid.
Aww, thank you! :D I get on shockingly well with 5-year-olds. We have a lot in common XD
schneefink: a:tla group hugschneefink on May 2nd, 2012 12:03 am (UTC)
*hugs*

"What happened to your arm? It almost looks like you're one of those crazy people who cut themselves!"
Ugh, horrible :(
But the epic tale of your fight with an evil tiger sounds like a lot of fun for children! *g*

Thanks for the link, many of these posts look very interesting.
Frith: SGA - Jennifer+Teyla - chibisfrith_in_thorns on May 2nd, 2012 12:09 am (UTC)
I'm only just now remembering a period while I was in sixth form when my younger sister fell over onto her hamster's cage and the bars gave her all these parallel cuts down her arm - she and her friends spent the next few days making all these "lolol it's like you're an emo weirdo" jokes while I was cringing every time. (I was hiding this from my family for years.) SUCH FUN.

I can come up with many epic tiger fights :D Also I can do it completely deadpan, trolling small children can be hilarious ;P

And yeah, loads of the posts are great. I'll probably link a few of my favourite ones once I've read them all.
helle_dhelle_d on May 2nd, 2012 12:37 am (UTC)
Thank you for this. You have already heard my thoughts on it, but I think it's brilliant that you've posted this and expressed it so well.
And Arrgh, people. Your last paragraph - it sucks that people feel the right to be stupid and horrific at people. *hugs*
/slightly incoherent, May Morning Syndrome is still active.
Frithfrith_in_thorns on May 2nd, 2012 11:33 am (UTC)
Hopefully you are now recovered from May Morning! :P

And thank you for your thoughts, they were very helpful :) Although I'm still not that sure about how clearly I expressed it, lol :P I think the problem is especially that people a lot of the time don't feel that they're being stupid and horrific - so they need to be told very firmly that they ARE.
imbecamiel on May 2nd, 2012 12:50 am (UTC)
And if you see my scars and when you were heading towards me you back up instead, or say something like, "What happened to your arm? It almost looks like you're one of those crazy people who cut themselves!" (This has happened. Several times,) then, well.

I am frequently baffled and horrified by both the things about others' appearance that people feel free to comment on/inquire about, and the ways in which they choose to do so. :( There are so few circumstances under which I'd feel it appropriate to even ask about something like that.

But yeah. Hard to put my feelings here into words, beyond - *hugs* My respect for both your willingness and the way in which you've addressed this, and thank you for sharing this. Very thought-provoking and well spoken.
Frith: CM - Reid - brownfrith_in_thorns on May 2nd, 2012 11:36 am (UTC)
Thank you! It's hard to write things like this, but I believe it's very important to say them.

And yeah. A lot of people seem to think that other people being different from them makes them public property. Which, no. It's so frustrating! And, as you say, it happens in so many situations.
(Anonymous) on May 2nd, 2012 03:32 am (UTC)
I totally cracked up over the "fight with the tiger" response. That's terrific. And I also often find the funniest stories are the ones when I was miserable at the time.
Frithfrith_in_thorns on May 2nd, 2012 11:40 am (UTC)
I've always been a fan of "ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer". And yes! So many things are absolutely hilarious in hindsight. I think it's compensation for the terribleness of them at the time :D
Gemmaar_gemlad on May 2nd, 2012 09:02 am (UTC)
I sometimes feel uncomfortable when I see such scars, but that is because I can't do anything to make it better. I have a bit of a 'must make everyone better' complex, which is sometimes annoying to other people because it's not always my place to do anything, even if I could. So I try my best to ignore visible scars/disabilities/'oddities'. However, this will sometimes make me look uncomfortable and embarrassed.

The way to help me know how better to react to such things is to write things like your post, which is awesome. Thanks for sharing.
Gemmaar_gemlad on May 2nd, 2012 09:03 am (UTC)
I also use humour in 'inappropriate' situations. Just glad that the rest of my family appreciate it at family funerals ;)
Mary Goodgerthesilverlight on May 2nd, 2012 04:32 pm (UTC)
They're the ones resulting from me being angry, furious with myself. When depression grabs me in a rip-tide and drags me down so fast and far I can't tell that's what's happening. When I blame myself for not being better, cleverer, stronger. These are the ones which are punishments I feel at the time that I deserve, when I feel I deserve to be marked deep. And when I surface again, these are the ones which leave their marks on me. Down my bicep, across my forearm. These are the ones which people see.

Thank you for writing this. This is just what I've been through. Sometimes self-punishment, sometimes done to release the pain of severe depression. I have several white scars across my upper arm, high enough that most t-shirts can hide them.

As for reactions, the only negative one I ever received other than the typical horror/pity was my mother thinking I was being a drama whore and doing it for attention. I don't know why she thought this, as I'd never talked about them and did my best to hide them. This was way before she understood. And even when she did, or I thought she did, I told her I had cut as recently as a couple years ago and she said "Wow, I thought you outgrew that. Cutting's for teenagers."

:/
Saphirasaphirablue on May 3rd, 2012 07:30 pm (UTC)
*hugs* and Thank you!
sings and wanders: chessvioletcheetah on May 5th, 2012 02:45 am (UTC)
[I'm a mutual friend of Michelel72]

A number of years ago, before the last time I cut myself (which was in 1999, but I still don't dare say "when I stopped," because, well, you never know), a male coworker with a little bit of a frat-guy vibe asked, "So, your arm... do you do that to yourself?" "Yeah." "It's like when you're stressed out and shit?" "Well, sometimes it's that simple, yeah." "Why don't you just go get plastered?" "Yeah, 'cause that's SO much less self-destructive." He opened his mouth, and blinked, and said, "You've got a point."

Would you mind if I linked to this on my Facebook page? I think a number of my friends would find it useful, or comforting, or both.
lounalunelounalune on May 14th, 2012 12:35 pm (UTC)
Here through BADD (yes, I'm still in the process of going through BADD posts). Great post. Visible self-injuries can make me very uncomfortable, especially when I'm tense, because it triggers me. I only have one visible scar, so I'm afraid what impression I make when I try not to stare and not to obviously look away... It's not always a situation where I can give an explanation. I'm certainly not trying to excuse the behaviors you encounter, just adding a thought.
Sarah LevisGirlWithTheCane on May 20th, 2012 10:43 am (UTC)
Here on the BADD Tour...
Quite late, I realize, but better late than never...

Thank you for posting this. I always self-injured where no one could see it (and my scars are faded now anyway), so I've never gotten those horrible questions that you have...but a friend of mine once had a therapist ask if she could see her scars, which I thought was inappropriate and creepy. Even in therapeutic circles there still seems to be little understanding of self-harm.

I realized as I was reading how truly bizarre my world must look to anyone on the outside when I'm depressed. I'd never really thought about it before.

I think you've got a great attitude, and I wish you all the best.
F# A# ∞soteriophobe on June 3rd, 2012 04:09 am (UTC)
This is verrry late (I'm sorry - I'm just now sorting back through my Flist and all the posts I missed), but I just wanted to thank you for writing this. Thank you for writing this. You have summed up so well here things that I wish I could…articulate as correctly. And it means a lot to find a post like this on my Flist, even belatedly - especially considering the kind of day I've had.

I suffer from Complex PTSD (what I was in hospital for recently, actually) and have a lot of scars of my own - only a few are visible. I love your "fight with a tiger" story and I actually have a similar one! Except I say I was attacked by a Drop Bear - and, you're right, it totally works great with kids. I think I have permanently terrified my little (Canadian) stepsister out of ever coming to Australia, with the vivid tales of how Dropbears just fall from the trees at random and start gnashing at you. XD

Mental illness is such a difficult thing, though - like we really need all this stigma around it, to make it even more difficult, right?! Susana Kaysen wrote that the reason people fear mental illness is because those who are mentally ill are usually…"normal". They aren't screaming lunatics in straight jackets, they're the people you pass in the street or say hello to every day. And the "sane" people…if they accept that mental illness can happen to anyone, then they have to accept that it could happen to them, and it's too frightening for them to comprehend. The myth of the raving lunatic exists to soothe the fears of that "sane" society - if they believe that we're nothing like them, then they can also feel safe in the belief that they can never be like us, suffer like us.

I wish they'd just suck it up and deal with it. :\

Speaking of depression being hilarious, have you ever read this? It is…well, hilarious. Because depression seriously is one of the most absurd things ever.

Thank you again for such a wonderful post. <3

Edited at 2012-06-03 04:09 am (UTC)