4. Stamps of Survival

My scars are not the first thing people notice about me.  Apart from the ones on my knee most of the others are on parts of my body that are normally covered. But my scars not only tell the story of my physical and mental battles, but they are the evidence of my survival.

Throughout the time I was in hospital I never looked at my injuries. I knew seeing the extent of the damage to my body would haunt me forever and as I said in my previous post this was probably the single most important thing that aided my mental healing.

Whether you have scars or not looking at yourself in the mirror and feeling deformed or unhappy with the way you look can have a devastating effect on your mental health.  And often it’s a lonely feeling. People don’t understand what you see when you look at yourself.  They try to be supportive – “you look amazing” or “I didn’t even notice you had scars” but it doesn’t make a difference. You see something completely different staring back in the mirror.

A big part of my recovery was learning to see my scars as marks of survival. That I had lived to tell the tale of everything that had happened to me and that these physical scars were a testament to that. When I look at them now it gives me strength and self-belief that I can achieve anything. That my mind and body are stronger than I ever gave them credit for and that my weakness was not recognising that sooner.

During my therapy sessions my doctor let me sit in on some group sessions with young girls suffering from eating disorders. They had similar issues with the way their body looked and some bearing the physical scars of self-harm. What amazed me was how similar we all perceived ourselves no matter what our story was or how we got there.  Ultimately, we looked in the mirror and saw someone whose physical appearance we loathed. No one person’s pain or perception of themselves was above another as the traumatic impact on the mind was ever present.

Mental or physical scars might heal but they will always be there. It took me a long time to look at my scars as a sign of my survival instead of a deformity. But as a young woman of only 20 it was a long road to this place. I had fears that if I was ever intimate with someone they would take one look at me and run in the other direction. I sympathise with young people who face so much pressure to look a certain way by magazines and the fashion industry. I understand what it is to look in the mirror and feel disappointment, sadness and see a body that you wish wasn’t yours.  Those reasons may be different – but ultimately the energy and strength required to overcome these thought processes is still immense.  My scars are still the same now as they were 10 years ago but it’s my minds reaction to seeing them that has changed.

If you are reading this and look in the mirror and feel ashamed at what you see remember that you are not alone. So many of us, for different reasons struggle with body image and the daily struggle with accepting who we are and the way we look. I get it.  And nothing anyone told me could change how I perceived myself. But the thing that changed my perspective was not external, it was internal. It was allowing myself to accept the imperfections not as a negative but as positive sign that whatever life threw at me I am still here.  With the scars to prove it.

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