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My Take

Managing Self-Harm Marks at Work and School

Hi everyone, I hope you’re doing well! I’ve been quite the busy bee lately but now I have three days to relax. I’m proud to say that though I’m working more hours and harder (physically and mentally) than I have before, I’m handling it quite well. As I’ve already mentioned I love my new job, I love my boss and I love my coworkers. I’m so very grateful! Work is a big part of this blog but before I get there there are a few other things I wanted to share.

At work I saw a ghost from my past; a best friend I had in early elementary school. The moment our eyes met I felt transported in time as if nothing had happened even though it’s been at least 10 years. We started talking as if time hadn’t passed and we discovered that each of us has gone through some serious mental sh*t. The eyes of experience…that’s what I saw and it was an intense moment. I only wish we’d been there for each other at the same time. Nevertheless, it looks like we’re both coming out the other side and for that I am immensely grateful. Now we get to stay in touch. Isn’t life amazing? 

The other piece of news is about Aaron and I. We got engaged almost two years ago and it was a precious time! We had discussed marriage which means we both knew it was coming when Aaron proposed. We didn’t have that surprise moment which we both realized afterwards was something we missed out on. I wouldn’t change anything about what we did or how, but on the 7th of the 7th month (three days ago), Aaron and I had a heart to heart romantic conversation. It was a magical moment and completely unexpectedly, he proposed again! This time he asked me: “Will you marry me, next year” I was blown away with shock and couldn’t speak for what was probably a full minute while I teared up. Aaron jokingly said; “Oh no, I’ve broken my Knome!”. In case you’re wondering why I’m a gnome with a K, I don’t remember how it started but it’s my nickname in our family. It may have something to do with my height.) After the pause, my answer was a resounding yes! I really wanted to tell you because I’m completely overcome with love and excitement! 

It’s wonderful to have these amazing people and things in my life to compensate for the stress and Bipolar swings. I rode extremely high for two and a half days which helped me with work and communicating with clients but was a little concerning for my family who know what this usually means afterwards. Thankfully when I crashed yesterday with intense fatigue, I didn’t reach the point of emptiness and depression. Just a very, very deep sleep. Thank you Universe!!! I’ve got to say though, I miss the high. Perhaps it’s abnormal but I love it and feel unstoppable. 

I apologize for the long update but I really couldn’t resist. Let’s move on though to the topic of the day: Dealing with self-harm scars in a work or school environment. 

This is a huge issue for those of us who’ve been there. There can be so much guilt and shame, fear, sadness, regret…you name it. It’s difficult to discuss which is exactly why I want to. You know the expression about not wearing your heart on your sleeve? Yeah well, I don’t need sleeves for that. My arms do that just fine thank you very much, whether I like it or not which is a resounding NOT. My arms speak for themselves and instead of being able to keep my mental health history close and personal, I’m literally wearing it constantly. I don’t have the luxury of such privacy, as I’m sure some of you can relate to. My only salvation is long sleeves but let’s face it; it can get pretty hot and who wants to wear long sleeves for the rest of their life? In other words it’s not a long-term solution.

The only long-term solution is acceptance. I don’t mean accepting WHAT we did, but THAT we did. This doesn’t mean we’ll let it happen again…goodness knows that’s the last thing I want, but we need acceptance in order to move on. What happened happened and it’s in the past. Believe me I’ve considered covering them up with ‘sleeve’ tattoos but that’s just really not me and I think I’d end up regretting it too. (Perhaps even more which is saying something.) My left arm would have to be covered from shoulder to wrist and that’s unacceptable to me. The solution? I have to face my fears. 

Before you say it, I know. This is complex and tremendously difficult. I myself go through periods of being extremely self-conscious to times where I’ve convinced myself that… whatever. It’s me. Take it or leave it. As you can imagine, these perceptions are highly mood-dependent. What really complicates things is, well, other people! Especially when it comes to work or school. Speaking for myself, I hate the thought of my peers seeing the scars, judging me and asking questions. Will everyone judge? Probably not…but in my mind, yes. Then there’s work. Are you afraid of failing a job interview because your scars say too much? Are you afraid of your boos seeing them, and your coworkers’ reaction? Are you worried about clients (if applicable), and feel like your boss wouldn’t want them to see your scars? I felt all of the above, trust me. I wore long sleeves for my interview because I was ashamed, but now that it’s so warm and quite a physical job I’ve had to suck it up and wear our uniform t-shirts. 

I’m lucky and I’ll tell you why: My boss is incredible and has been nothing but kind, understanding and supportive. My coworkers are the same, and so incredibly far from judgmental! They’ve accepted me for who I am and we’ve even discussed some of our individual personal issues. Let’s face it; we’re all going through something! This is a tremendous relief and weight off my shoulders. To be frank, the coworkers at my previous job were wonderful and understanding but my boss had no clue and didn’t seem to care. There’s more than one reason why I didn’t want to go back.

Remember the panic attack I had at work over a week ago? I was paranoid the next time I saw my boss and was sure that I was going to be fired. Instead she said that if it happens I should take the time I need alone to centre myself and then come back. If it gets too bad I can go home if there are enough girls on the floor to finish the day without stress. She said she’d inform the others about what could happen and instructed them to leave me be while I calm myself. I was overcome with gratitude but started tearing up though because of my scars and asked her if they were disturbing for clients. She said no and understood that sometimes I feel the need to cover up. She’s ok with me wearing my black windbreaker since it can be worn on hot days, despite it not being part of the uniform. Needless to say, I feel incredibly fortunate! 

The sad truth is that not everyone is like this. It could’ve easily gone the other way which is something you might currently be experiencing. If that’s the case, I’m truly sorry. What I think we also have to deal with, regardless of how our boss and coworkers are, are the clients. Every day at work I get stares. Sometimes I’m at the cash speaking with the client and they’re staring at my arms barely looking at my eyes. It’s like…my eyes are up here! And then there are the people who ask…Now I understand natural human curiosity but in all fairness it’s pretty damn obvious what happened! 30 or so parallel scars on both arms? Gee…what could THAT be? Sorry for the sarcasm, but I’m a little irritated. 

I have thoughts on overcoming these self-harm related struggles but they’re far from complete answers because I’m going through it too. Still, I’d like to share these ideas.

  • Decide where you’re at with ‘exposure’. Are you just starting to uncover yourself? Have you been exposed but want to hide again because of others’ reactions? Do you feel ready to take small steps or would you feel more comfortable waiting?
  • Do tattoos sound appealing? If so, I recommend that you make the decision in a moment of clarity and not high emotion. I think we’ve all had enough regrets. Think about it carefully before you go through with.
  • If you want to feel your best during a job or school interview and showing your scars is scary, it’s perfectly fine to cover up. Sometimes it’s best for the first impression, even though it shouldn’t be the case.
  • If you fear what others will think of your character and work ethics if your scars show, considering keeping them hidden until after you’ve proven yourself. Then when you’re ready to expose yourself more, people will already have a sense of who you are and how you work. This makes it more difficult for them to pass judgment.
  • Humour can be an excellent remedy: If someone is prying and you’d like to give them a hint to let it go, think about a few jokes you can use. Most often people will be reminded that it’s none of their business. (I’m a fan of “I was in Africa and got into a fight with a tiger. You should see the tiger.”) On a semi-funny note, because I work at a pet store some people think I was scratched by a big angry cat. Last time I checked cat scratches aren’t 1/2 to 1 cm wide though. Just saying…and that’s why I go with a tiger.
  • When testing yourself with exposure bring something that covers your scars so you can get comfortable as soon as you feel anxious.
  • Make your exposure therapy sessions short and begin with people you’re more comfortable with.
  • Consider adopting a new clothing, hair or accessory style. The boost of confidence and distraction from other areas can be helpful.
  • Sometimes it can be best to go into the fire. By this I mean have a discussion with your boss about the issue and explain that it’s in the past.
  • If you still self-harm in a visible location, perhaps it’s best not to let that show. It’s unfortunate, but the reality is that people will probably be even more judgmental than if it were in the past and healed over.

Most importantly of all is to build up your own confidence and put your marks where they belong; in the past as part of your history and what has shaped you into who you are today. Chances are this is a much stronger and courageous person who deserves love, happiness and understanding! No matter what others think of you it is your own self-perception that matters most. Praise your qualities, celebrate your victories and view your scars as a battle won rather than something to be ashamed of. I know that this is far from easy but it’s well-worth the time and effort. We are more than our marks. We are strong, we are fighters and we CAN succeed. Never let anyone tell you you’re weak, stupid or crazy. I think you’re brave and I believe in you.

What's YOUR take?