There’s a scar on my right forearm, a little closer to my elbow than to my wrist, and it runs parallel to a smaller scar with a smaller story. It’s a scar that has found a home in my skin since the last time I’ve actually sat down to write, and perhaps that speaks volumes about where I am these days. It’s a scar that my eyes catch sight of at least a hundred times a day, or so it feels like. No matter what I’m doing, it’s there in the corners of my focus. And I haven’t yet decided quite how I feel about it.
I don’t remember the exact day that I made this particular mark on my skin. I know that I chose a spot much higher up than I would normally self-harm on, partially because I was tired of rinsing blood from the inside of my bracelets. If I’m being honest though, I know that primarily, I chose that spot because it was noticeable. I wanted someone to notice that I was aching, and aching so badly that I would need to slice into my own skin. The thing is, I suppose I neglected to take into account the very difference in skin from my wrist up to a smoother, fleshier area of my arm. It ended up being a cut that scared me. It was long, deep, and it stung like a mother fucker. I made the wound just before heading to work, so I cleaned it up as best I could and went on my way. No one mentioned it that night, and I relished in the throbbing that felt like a sad, warped form of release. Cutting that day seemed like a question. The silence of the people around me while my skin screamed triumphantly in discomfort, was the answer.
In the weeks since I made that particular cut, I’ve had two pointed conversations about it. Once, my mom asked if there was something on my arm. She was likely to have had numerous chances to see the cut in various stages of healing, but the first time she noticed it, it was definitely just a scar. An afterthought. It was actually looking very similar to a burn on my left hand that I had gotten from taking cupcakes out of the oven a little bit haphazardly. I busied myself with something that would hide it, and I lied through my teeth: “Oh, I burned myself on a bread tray at work. Hey, should I water your plants while I’m up?” Later that same evening, I recounted the story to a friend, who confessed that she had, in fact, noticed the cut in its early days. “Oh yeah, I saw it. I remember thinking ‘ooh, Rianne, that’s a little high up.. Yikes,’ but I wasn’t going to say anything about it. I figured I would take your lead.” Perhaps that was an opportunity for me, to scream, to shout, to cry, to beg for help. To admit that I’m not doing okay and that it feels like my very world is crushing me. To share that I feel like I can’t take care of the hard stuff, let alone myself. To look someone in the eye and tell the truth about how tired and wobbly and dark and twisty I feel. And yet, I kept quiet. I let out an easy little laugh and changed the subject. I swallowed my pain, and I let it be just that. My pain.
I would call these past few weeks, these past few months, among the hardest of my life. Life is made up of seasons, and this particular one has been a long, hard winter. I have been busying myself with nothing but work and my mom’s care, and isolating myself from my friends. I have steered clear of theatre. I have shied away from texts that might lead to real contact with real people. I have used the easy excuses – I have to work, I don’t have the money, I’m just so tired, – and while they are true, they are just that. They’re excuses. At any point in this season, I have had the power to change my own course. That’s one of the hardest things to admit. At any point, I could change my own course. Depression lies when it tells me (and when it tells you) that it’s impossible to find friends, to find hope, to find change. Depression lies when it suggests that being alone is better. Depression lies when it steals your energy and turns you into someone you hate. But you know what feels good and right and true? Knowing that the simple task of admitting my pain is enough to melt the iceberg in my throat. I type these words through blurry eyes, and I think I know now why I put this blog off for so long.
I was afraid of feeling it.
I still am.
This week is National Suicide Prevention Week, and in years prior, I have hung signs and created Instagram challenges and fundraisers and I have shouted community and love to anyone who would listen. I have felt like a strong, genuine voice. I have felt like a beacon of hope. This year, if I’m honest, I feel like shit. I’m tired and sad, and again, bogged down with work and my mom’s care. But beyond that, sometimes it feels like a lie. How do I preach the things I haven’t been living? How do I inspire others to seek counseling, or at least the ear of a friend, when I can’t even get out of bed? How do I tell the people around me that their lives matter, when I’m taking my own life and slashing it apart with a razor blade?
And it occurs to me, time and time again, that when I allow it to be, my voice is my power. When it comes down to brass tacks, I am still who I have always been and I still believe what I have believed. Perhaps there is strength in being soft, in being honest even when it’s broken, even when it’s quiet. I’ve been telling myself over and over because it feels right and it feels true: Sorrow is an injury, but it is not a death sentence. Minds change and seasons change, and even I know that I will not wear this pain forever. That’s where hope comes in. Hope stays real. Hope is the small, unwavering light that continues to wake me up in the morning, even when I think I don’t want to. There is hope here. There is still life here.
Perhaps that’s what the scar means. It is a testament to my lonely season. It is a real life analogy of the pain I took into my own hands and carried on my own. It looks healed, but it isn’t non existent. It isn’t nothing now. It is still there, a constant, every day reminder of a hurt too big for me to handle. It moves and changes and lives and survives with me. It lives. It doesn’t hurt the way it used to, but I haven’t yet forgotten it’s sting.
And so I say what I have always said, what I have always believed to be true. People need other people. We need friends who will check up on us, who will root for us when we are up and carry us when we are down. We need hands to hold while we walk through our dark seasons, hands who will find the hidden light switches and candles along the way. Beyond that, there is a degree of honesty that I think we could all afford to learn a little bit better. Perhaps it isn’t always best to take someone else’s lead. There will be times when it is okay to pull your friends aside and ask them about how they’re doing, ask them about how they’ve been acting, ask them about that cut on their arm. A few minutes of discomfort is a small price to pay to ensure that our friends and family stay alive, that they know their worth in this world. Some of us are good at asking for help, and some of us simply aren’t. It doesn’t mean we don’t need it. It might mean that we’re fiercely independent and we don’t know how to need. It may be that we’re nervous and scared and we don’t know who or how to ask. It may be something else entirely. I can’t speak for everyone.
But I can speak for this. Loving your friends is always worth it. Loving them when they’re messy is worth it too. There are almost always indicators that someone is struggling, and it is always worth it to speak up now, rather than in a hospital room or at a funeral. If you notice that your friends are checked out, or acting differently, or talking about wanting to harm themselves – look closer. Ask the hard questions. Wait to hear the hard answers. And remind them what’s true at the base of it all: life is worth living.
I look at my scar, how it finds its home in the hodge podge of old war wounds on my arm, and I know that waiting to be noticed in our pain is not all there is. We have to be willing to occasionally swallow our own vulnerability and let at least one person know that we are reaching our limit of pain. We all lead busy lives, and though it is not ideal, sometimes we just don’t live in a way that allows us to notice the details concerning our friends when they are hurting. We have to learn to be so brave as to speak up. It is one thing to preach over and over that people need other people. It is another thing to take action for our own wellbeing. We have to choose to speak up. We have to choose love. A check is no good unless you take it to the bank. Take it there.
And that’s advice for me, too. Ask for help if you need help. If counseling is something you need and have access to, I wholeheartedly recommend it. If you aren’t in a situation where it’s accessible, resources like 1-800-273-TALK or texting TWLOHA to 741741 have proven to be very valuable in desperate moments. Make sure you get outside at least once a day. Remember to eat something. Remember to drink something. And if all you can do is go back to bed, then maybe change your sheets or make yourself a playlist to fall asleep to. Keep yourself safe. You don’t have to move mountains. Just keeping yourself alive is a job important enough.
That’s the goal, at the end of the day. Keep living. Hope to be surprised. Love your friends fiercely enough that they believe life is worth living, too. Lean on each other when it gets hard to bear. Your friends really do love you, and they really do need you. Learn to believe it, even if you think it isn’t true.
I Believe by Christina Perri played while I was writing this, and I was struck with a phrase contained in the song. It’s what I’ve been trying to write this whole night.
“I wish that you could see your scars turn into beauty. I believe that today it’s okay to be not okay. Hold on, hold on.”
I am only one broken person trying to break gracefully enough that I can still be a voice for those who break like me. I am not doing okay right now, and I could use a little checking in. But there is work to be done and conversations to be had and songs to be sung. I’ll be here waiting for that, always learning and relearning how to hold and be held, need and be needed on this journey. I hope for change, I hope for peace, and I hope that God hears all of my prayers.
And the music plays. Hold on. Hold on.
(Disclaimer: You can ask me about my scars. It’s uncomfy, it’s weird, and it’s allowed. Mental illness is real, and it is okay that this has happened to me. Join the conversation. Let’s talk.)