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 comments.